Oil Futures Drift Lower

April-delivery crude oil slips 25 cents at $61.57 a barrel.
Publish date:

Updated from 12:41 p.m. EST

Crude futures finished lower Thursday at the New York Mercantile Exchange a day after bullish inventory figures from the Energy Information Administration provided a boost for the oil contract.

April-delivery crude oil fell 18 cents to $61.64 a barrel. Reformulated gasoline climbed 3 cents to $1.93 a gallon, and heating oil slipped a penny to $1.76 a gallon.

The near-term contract for natural gas was down 10 cents at $7.24 per million British thermal units.

The EIA released new natural gas inventory figures earlier that showed a draw of 102 billion cubic feet from stores during the week ended March 2. The new figures were in line with analyst estimates.

Inventories for crude oil and gasoline came in far below expectations on Wednesday. The numbers "were perhaps among the most bullish set of figures we have seen in some weeks, and not surprisingly, sparked an impressive move higher," Edward Meir, energy analyst at Man Financial, wrote in a report.

The lower crude inventories "were impacted by the shutdown of the Houston Ship Channel two times last week due to fog," according to John Herrlin, research analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York.

Larger-than-expected withdrawals from gasoline stores were caused by reduced refinery utilization because of various refinery fires and shut-ins in the U.S., as well as high "demand levels that are outpacing current production," Herrlin wrote in an email.

Despite the modest pullback Thursday, "we see $65 as the next level for crude oil" said George Hopley, energy analyst at Barclays Capital. "Emphasis is switching away from winter temperatures and now focusing on growing demand for gasoline. Gasoline demand is already strong early in the season. This is driving prices higher."

Energy stocks were mostly higher. The

iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil

(OIL) - Get Report

ETF was down 11 cents at $37.57.

Distributed Energy Systems

(DESC) - Get Report

was downgraded by Merriman Curhan Ford from buy to neutral after the company announced a fourth-quarter loss of 84 cents a share. Its stock plummeted 30% in the trading session to $1.93.

Among the major producers,

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

edged up 0.3% to $71.85.


(CVX) - Get Report

was better by 0.2% at $68.46, and


(COP) - Get Report

added 0.7% to $67.57.