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Oil Futures Continue Ascent

Crude climbs 79 cents to $77.49 a barrel.

Oil futures rose Monday even as the market theorized that OPEC might be preparing to announce an increase in its production of crude.

The October West Texas intermediate contract climbed 79 cents to $77.49 a barrel in New York trading. Reformulated gasoline was little changed at $1.98 a gallon, and heating oil tacked on 3 cents to $2.17 a gallon.

The near-term natural gas contract surged 39 cents to $5.89 per million British thermal units.

According to Dennis Gartman, publisher of

The Gartman Letter

, Saudi Arabia has been uncharacteristically quiet ahead of Tuesday's OPEC meeting. Because Saudi Arabia tends to give guidance ahead of OPEC gatherings, its silence could suggest that the world's biggest oil exporter may call for a boost in output.

"The Saudis, along with the other Gulf states, have enormous exposure to weakening equity markets, and fear they've far more to lose as equities tumble than they will lose by selling their crude a bit less expensively," Gartman wrote in a research note.

Though a production increase would normally put downward pressure on prices, a

Dow Jones

survey of traders and industry insiders indicated that OPEC is already pumping more than 1 million barrels a day above the group's quota. If that's the case, the downside effect of a higher production target would likely be mitigated.

Meanwhile, Pemex, the state-owned oil company of Mexico, said bombers set off six explosions and blew up three pipelines in Veracruz that carry oil, natural gas and propane.

Back in the U.S., stocks in the energy complex finished broadly lower. The

CBOE Oil Index

fell 0.5% to 749.67.

ConocoPhillips

(COP) - Get Report

slid 0.8% to $82.19, and

Chevron

TheStreet Recommends

(CVX) - Get Report

declined 0.7% to $87.05.

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

dropped 1% to $84.86.

Among stocks with ratings changes,

Goodrich Petroleum

(GDP) - Get Report

was upgraded by BMO Capital Markets to outperform from market perform, sending its shares slightly higher to $30.94.

Noble

(NE) - Get Report

was downgraded by Jefferies & Co to hold from buy, and its shares fell 4.1% to $48.43.

Ferris Baker Watts reduced

Tortoise Energy Capital

(TYY)

and

Tortoise Energy Infrastructure

(TYG) - Get Report

to neutral from buy. Tortoise Energy Capital fell 1.2%, while Tortoise Energy Infrastructure dropped 1.4%.