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Updated from 2:15 p.m. EST

Crude oil prices erased losses and closed higher Monday, even though OPEC decided to keep production unchanged.

The March futures contract gained $1.02 to $48.20 a barrel in Nymex floor trading, having been down more than 2% earlier. Crude oil traded close to $50 a barrel last week for the first time since late November.

Prices also came under early pressure because the Iraqi elections Sunday went off without any major catastrophes, with voter turnout deemed high.

At a weekend meeting, members of the oil cartel agreed to keep their official output ceiling at 27 million barrels a day, having cut production by 1 million barrels a day, effective Jan. 1. The cartel had raised production three times in the second half of 2004 in an effort to lower prices.

Until late week, there was ample market speculation that OPEC would cut output a second time to support prices, which had fallen to almost $40 a barrel in December. At current levels, the benchmark U.S. crude is trading about 16% lower than its October closing high of $55.17.

The relative success of the Iraqi elections was also considered bearish for prices. Violence there -- including sabotage acts on Iraq's oil industry -- has been a major concern of the market; periodic disruptions or outright shutdowns of Iraqi exports boosted prices from time to time in 2004.