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Crude Oil Prices Surge

The benchmark U.S. crude breaks $48 a barrel as supply concerns return.
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Updated from 2:10 p.m. EST

Oil prices surged Thursday as the benchmark U.S. crude closed above $48 a barrel on short-term supply concerns.

The February futures contract gained $1.67 to $48.04 a barrel in Nymex floor trading, having gained in the two previous sessions. Prices last touched $48 in November.

Energy Department inventory data for the most recent week came in largely as expected Wednesday, showing a 3-million-barrel decline in crude oil stocks and a 1.9-million-barrel increase in distillates -- which include heating oil -- a closely watched commodity at this time of year.

With demand at a seasonal peak in the northern U.S., weather patterns frequently play a key role in determining prices. Much of the Northeast has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather in the past two weeks, but that's expected to end this weekend with lower-than-normal temperatures.

Traders continue to speculate about whether OPEC will agree on another round of production cutbacks at its Jan. 30 meeting in Vienna, having already cut production by 1 million barrels a day at the beginning of this month.

The benchmark U.S. crude has been creeping higher in recent weeks after suffering a steep price correction that took it some 25% below the record price of $55 a barrel in late October.