Updated from 11:48 a.m. EST
Oil futures eked out a modest increase Thursday on a revised tanker report showing OPEC trimming production.
Light, sweet crude rose 30 cents to close at $62.49 a barrel on Nymex. The January contract had been falling earlier in the day as traders focused on the return of warm weather and the expectation of sturdy fuel supplies. Heating oil dipped 1 cent to $1.77 a gallon, and wholesale unleaded gasoline added 1 cent to $1.62 a gallon.
Traders believe a combination of higher refining run-rates and mild temperatures will boost fuel stockpiles, therefore keeping prices down. Crude inventories are already more than 5% higher than last year.
Refiners ramped up production last week to 90.5% of their capacity, up from 88.1% the previous week. Output has been soaring as refiners finish seasonal maintenance before the winter and demand for heating fuels peaks. Crude is refined into heating oil.
The high level of supplies is one reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is considering deeper production cuts at its meeting next week in Nigeria. Still, some experts believe reductions might not be meaningful to prices. OPEC slashed output by 1.2 million barrels in November, but prices haven't consistently stayed above $60, as the group would like.
That means they'll likely trim production again, this time by at least 500,000 barrels, according to several OPEC ministers.
There has been some debate among analysts and traders that OPEC has not uniformly reduced output by 1.2 million barrels per day and that the number is actually closer to just under 800,000 barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. Some members are reluctant to give up millions in oil revenues.
Tanker tracking company Oil Movements echoed the federal agency's report Thursday when it increased its estimate for OPEC's reduction. The consultancy estimates the group trimmed production by 800,000 barrels per day instead of its previous estimate of 700,000 barrels.
Natural gas shed 5 cents to settle at $7.67 per million British thermal units after supplies fell in line with analysts' expectations in the Energy Department's weekly update. Inventories dipped 11 billion cubic feet to 3.4 trillion cubic feet and now stand 7% above last year and 9% above the five-year average.
Analysts in a
survey had expected a decline of 14 billion cubic feet last week as businesses and homeowners cranked up their furnaces to fight off cold weather.
After hitting a nine-month high of $8.87 per million British thermal units last week, natural gas futures have slumped on new weather forecasts. The National Weather Service is predicting that milder temperatures will return to much of the country by next week and remain through the middle of the month. Weather affects natural gas futures because the fuel is used by some utilities to generate power.
Energy shares on the Amex Oil Index fell, with
posting the largest declines.
The biggest publicly traded energy company,
, was off 0.8% at $75.74.
will spend 20% more, or $19.6 billion, next year on its capital and exploration budget. The oil giant raised its spending to account for higher material and service costs and several exploration projects. The bulk of the money, or $14.6 billion, will be earmarked for exploration and production, while $3.8 billion will be devoted towards refining and marketing.
The company also said it would spend up to $5 billion over the next three years to repurchase shares. Chevron has spent $10 billion on stock buybacks over the past two years. Shares were last rising 0.2% to $73.45.
, meanwhile, is reducing spending for next year to $13.5 billion, down from $18 billion this year. The reduction comes as the company finishes its 20% investment in Russian oil company Lukoil. About 84% of ConocoPhillips' capital program will go towards exploration and production, while 13% will be devoted to refining and marketing. The remainder will be used for corporate and emerging businesses.
ConocoPhillips shares were last up 1.5% at $69.90.
Among ratings actions,
was dipping 3.2% after investment bank UBS downgraded the stock from neutral to reduce. The reduction came because the oil and natural gas driller's growth outlook, short reserve life and drilling risks makes the stock overvalued.
Credit Suisse trimmed its rating of
( THE) from outperform to neutral, and the stock took a beating, falling 2.8% to $38.57.