Updated from 2:31 p.m. EDT
It's a big, bad world out there, and no one appears to know that better these days than the average crude oil trader.
Prices shot to new record highs Friday as markets worried about the impact on supply of such diverse threats as sabotage in Iraq; civil unrest in Venezuela; a government-private sector tug of war in Russia; and what have become the garden-variety fears of terror acts in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and in the oil-hungry U.S. ahead of the presidential elections.
The benchmark U.S. contract ended $1.10, or 2.4%, higher at $46.60 a barrel, blowing out another level of psychological resistance at $46. The contract was trading for $27 a barrel a year ago.
The almost relentless run-up in prices since late April has been fueled by persistent worries about adequate supplies amid unusually strong global demand and what many consider a $5-to-$10-a-barrel premium, based on the potential for terrorist acts, which could severely disrupt the supply of oil from the Gulf.
The rally has shown no signs of abating, despite two production increases from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as well as intermittent reminders from its most powerful member and the world's largest exporter, Saudi Arabia, that it is prepared to use its remaining spare capacity to control price speculation.
Iraq's production and exports have been periodically curtailed by anti-U.S. occupation groups both before and after the handover of power to local authorities.
Traders' greatest concern of late has been the prospect that
-- Russia's largest privately-held oil company, which exports about 1.7 million barrels a day -- could be forced into bankruptcy and have its assets seized as a result of a heated and politicized tax dispute with Moscow.
If that weren't enough, voters in Venezuela -- a major producer -- go to the polls this weekend for a referendum on the controversial presidency of Hugo Chavez, who has sometimes meddled in the affairs of the state-controlled oil company, which has also struggled with contentious unions in the past year.
And in another development Friday,
reported that an explosion at its refinery in Indiana had shut down some operations.