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Crude Oil Above $80

The most actively traded April delivery contract added 25 cents to settle at $80.31 a barrel, even as energy stocks slumped.
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) -- Crude oil vacillated around the $80 mark Monday as investors continued looking for directional cues.

The most actively traded April delivery contract was adding 19 cents to $80.25 a barrel. The March contract, which is set to expire today, was trading up by 17 cents at $79.98 a barrel. But the price reached as high as $80.51 during the session and remains decidedly higher than prices at the beginning of last week when the contract stood around $75 a barrel.

Why Oil is Headed Much Higher

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Darin Newsom, senior commodities analyst at DTN Telvent, is still seeing bearish signs in the market despite the march to $80. But he also said the spot contract typically rallies 34% between mid-February and mid-July.

"We're pulling some of that premium out of the deferred contracts," he said. "So this is telling me we've got some commercial buying coming in to this market, it is seasonal in nature, and it might be enough to fight off the actual underlying fundamentals the EIA stock reports continue to show us. The key point is $83.95. This is the January high. If we pop through that, we've got some room to run to the upside. If we can't, then longer term it'll probably start to flatten out and possibly start to work lower again."

The greenback was marginally higher against a basket of currencies in the morning, with the dollar index up nearly 0.1%.

The broader markets also lacked any major economic data announcements to digest today.

Among equities, the NYSE Arca Index and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index were down 0.8% and 0.3%, respectively.


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Exxon Mobil

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, the Dow's major integrated oil names, were helping guide the blue-chip average lower, slipping 1.1% and 0.6%, respectively.

But a blockbuster oil services deal was the most talked about headline in the energy space today.


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officially announced plans to buy

Smith International


for nearly $11 billion. Schlumberger shares were losing 4.6%. Smith shares were gaining another 7.2%, adding to a Friday surge after

The Wall Street Journal

originally broke the news.

Union leaders voted to continue striking in the refining ranks at


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, according to a report from

Dow Jones

. In a company statement today, the French firm said it bumped up a March 29 meeting to March 8 at the request of union officials. They will discuss specifics of its Flanders refinery shuttering and the broader refining picture in France.

Forest Oil

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was down 4% ahead of a fourth-quarter earnings report due after the close. Analysts expect the firm to earn 60 cents a share, according to consensus projections provided by

Elsewhere on the Nymex, the March natural gas contract was losing 16 cents to $4.88 per million British thermal units. The most actively traded April heating oil contract was adding nearly a penny to $2.09 a gallon, as April gasoline improved 2 cents to trade at $2.22 a gallon.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York