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A lower-than-expected reduction in crude inventories sent oil futures in reverse Wednesday and kept the century mark from being breached for yet another day.

December light sweet crude settled down 33 cents at $96.37 a barrel in New York after earlier hitting an intraday record price at $98.62. Oil had closed at an all-time high Tuesday at $96.70, and if inventories had been draw down sharply, some traders felt that $100 a barrel might be within reach.

However, according to the Energy Information Administration, crude stocks fell by only 821,000 barrels during the week ended Nov. 2. Analysts had forecast a 1.5 million-barrel decline due to severe weather in the Gulf of Mexico.

Those stronger-than-expected figures were mostly responsible for crude's price reversal in the trading session.

Reformulated gasoline was little changed at $2.44 a gallon, and heating oil rose 1 cent to $2.62 a gallon. The near-term natural gas contract fell 24 cents to $7.62 per million British thermal units.

Distillates fell by 98,000 barrels, whereas analysts were expecting a 450,000-barrel withdrawal from stores. Motor gasoline stocks dropped by 819,000 barrels during the week. Analysts had predicted that gasoline stocks would remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, energy stocks traded mostly lower.

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Exxon Mobil Corporation Report

slid 3.1% to $87.20, and

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(CVX) - Get Chevron Corporation Report

fell 3.4% to $87.54.


(COP) - Get ConocoPhillips Report

gave back 3.2% at $82.41.

French energy giant


(TOT) - Get Total SA Report

said its profits rose 29% in the third quarter, bucking the trend among the other global integrateds during the period. Total said that its strong performance was due to higher oil prices and increased oil and gas production. Shares of Total rose 2.5% to $82.72.