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Crude Prices Edge Ahead

BP and Anadarko trade lower.

Updated from 1:16 p.m. EST

Fuel prices were narrowly mixed Tuesday as traders generally avoided making big bets ahead the upcoming data on petroleum inventories.

At the end of Tuesday's trading session, light, sweet crude oil futures were up 14 cents to $58.88 a barrel at the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline was up 1 cent to $1.57.

Natural gas was down 2 cents to $7.62 per million British thermal units, and heating oil was down about 1 cent to $1.68 a gallon.

Abnormally low temperatures across the country have increased the amount of fossil fuels required for heating purposes. The arctic temperatures are expected to remain steady throughout the week.

The effect that these temperatures have on the country's fuel stores will become clearer when the Energy Information Agency releases its storage reports later this week. The EIA crude oil report, which includes distillates such as heating oil, will be released Wednesday. The agency's report on natural gas reserves will be released Thursday.

Crude prices have hovered below the $60 mark since early Monday. Analysts are predicting that high withdrawal numbers in this week's EIA storage reports will likely push the price of crude above the $60 level.

Edward Meir, energy analyst at Man Financial in New York, writes in a research report that "if the markets do not rally on an in-line, or a higher-than-expected distillate draw, this could be a sign of an intermediate top."

"Over the last couple of weeks, the price of crude has climbed $9 because of the weather. Neutral withdrawal numbers this week could suggest that the rise in price has been disconnected from true demand," Meir said.

Another pressure point affecting the crude oil market is the impending resolution against Iran's nuclear weapons program by the United Nations Security Council, according to Max Pyziur, energy analyst at CPM Group in New York. The sanctions are scheduled to go into effect on Feb. 20. Severe sanctions with Chinese and Russian support could propel crude prices past the $60 level. Weaker sanctions could quickly reduce price support for crude oil.

Pyziur says that the consequences of OPEC's decision to reduce crude production and shipments haven't been entirely priced into the futures markets. The production cuts went into effect on Feb. 1, but deliveries of that production won't reach U.S. ports until early March.

Oil freight transport rates, which tend to decline when production and deliveries are cut, are leading indicators of reductions in crude supplies. Thus, the price of crude may climb if freight rates begin to fall throughout February.

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Meanwhile, BP said profits for the quarter ended Dec. 31 fell to $2.88 billion from $3.69 billion in the same period of 2005. Revenue edged down to $62.5 billion from $63.6 billion. At the end of trading Tuesday, BP stock was down 53 cents to $63.26.Elsewhere,

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reported that its profits more than doubled in the fourth quarter. However, the firm's jump in earnings was primarily due to the sale of a Canadian subsidiary. Anadarko's stock was down 48 cents to $42.47.

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fell 23 cents to $20.06 after the company announced diluted earnings per share of 31 cents in the fourth quarter, compared with 63 cents in the same period in 2005.