Updated from 1:29 p.m. EDT
Oil and gasoline prices rose Friday, after a three-day skid, as traders weighed signals from OPEC that the cartel may decide to raise its official production ceiling at a meeting next week.
The benchmark U.S. crude added 44 cents, or 1.2% to $39.88 in recent trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, having fallen 3% to $39.44 Thursday. That's the second time in a week prices have closed below $40 a barrel after their recent peak of almost $42. Gasoline futures shot up 5.1 cents, or 3.6%, to $1.436 a gallon after also sliding yesterday.
Although the national average retail price of gasoline is now $2.05 a gallon, up 37.5% from $1.49 a year ago, it still figures to have little impact on this holiday weekend's travel volumes, said Robert Sinclair, spokesman for the Automobile Club of New York.
National surveys forecast 37 million people would travel an average of 800 miles over the holiday, 31 million of them by car -- a 4% increase in both numbers from last year.
Sinclair said the average cost of fueling these trips was going up only $20. "It looks like all of this gloom and doom with gasoline prices and oil prices is having no effect at all on the American people's desire to hit the road," he said.
But in the market, traders Friday solidified positions in the event of any attacks on oil facilities in the Middle East during the extended holiday weekend. OPEC President Purnomo Yusgiantoro Thursday said the cartel was considering several options to cool the recent surge in prices.
The comment is the closest that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has come to indicating whether it plans to heed the calls of oil-consuming nations in the West and OPEC member Saudi Arabia to increase production to head off any potential damage to world economic growth.
Saudi Arabia -- the world's largest oil exporter -- has urged the cartel to increase output by as much as 2 million barrels a day. The kingdom has also said it plans to up its own output from 8.3 million barrels to 9.1 million barrels a day starting in June. Mexico has also indicated it will boost supply, but by a much more modest amount. Mexico, along with Norway and Russia, are among the world's biggest oil producers, but are not members of OPEC.
OPEC and some of its members had previously said they would not make any decisions on production until their regularly scheduled meeting in Beirut on June 3.
The production equation is somewhat cloudy because OPEC admits it is already producing about 2.3 million barrels a day more than its official ceiling of 23.5 million. There is also considerable debate among analysts as to whether any OPEC member other than Saudi Arabia can make a substantial production increase and sustain it over time. The comments from OPEC today indicate that one option is to raise the cartel's official ceiling to the actual level of current production.
Energy prices have repeatedly hit record highs on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the past month, with traders worried about tight supplies.
Persistent worries about attacks on facilities in the oil-rich Persian Gulf have kept oil above $40 a barrel for most of the past two weeks.