Updated from 2:57 p.m. EDTCrude fell Wednesday as traders turned their attention from Hurricane Wilma to the government's weekly report on fuel inventories. Light, sweet crude for November delivery finished down 79 cents to $62.41 a barrel, after falling more than a dollar during the day. Unleaded gasoline was down about 5.9 cents to $1.68 a gallon. Heating oil lost 2.8 cents to $1.91. Natural gas finished up 12.8 cents to $13.55 per million British thermal units. According to the Energy Department, crude inventories rose last week by 5.55 million barrels, about twice the expected gain. Gasoline inventories defied predictions for a decline and rose by 2.9 million barrels. Distillate stocks fell by 1.9 million barrels, in line with estimates. Gasoline production rose to more than 8.5 million barrels a day, while distillate production rose to an average of 3.4 million barrels a day. "In terms of inventory, it's certainly bearish," said Mike Armbruster, energy analyst at Altavest Worldwide Trading. "We expected a bit of a draw. I think it's a little bit of a surprise that we have the buildup in unleaded gasoline since all the refineries in the gulf are not back on line yet." The figures reversed an early rise in energy prices. Traders had been anxious over the progress of Hurricane Wilma, which reached Category 5 status at a time when Gulf Coast refineries are trying to get back on line after the twin blasts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For now, the storm looks unlikely to reprise their act. The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Wilma, described as the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded , is currently packing maximum sustained winds of 175 mph but should weaken before hitting Florida by the end of the week. At last report, the storm center was about 325 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. As far as hurricane damage to the gulf, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said Wednesday's shut-in oil production was 973,084 barrels of oil per day, the equivalent to 64.9% of the gulf's daily oil production. The shut-in gas production was 5.242 billion cubic feet per day, the equivalent of 52.42% of the gulf's daily gas production.
On the international front, OPEC officials met with Pacific Rim energy leaders in South Korea. According to the Associated Press, Adnan Shihab-Eldin, acting secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, told energy ministers at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that the 11-nation group will invest up to $250 billion to raise crude production capacity by a daily 5 million barrels to 38 million barrels a day by 2010. In company news, New Orleans energy company Entergy ( ETR) said it expects to beat analysts' third-quarter expectations, despite the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Entergy said it expects earnings of $1.64 per share. Analysts polled by Thomas Financial expect Entergy to earn $1.55 per share excluding items. Oklahoma City-based energy company Kerr-McGee ( KMG) said it will sell certain oil and gas properties to Encore Acquisition ( EAC) for about $104 million. The properties are in the Permian Basin in western Texas and the Anadarko Basin in Oklahoma. Kerr-McGee will use net proceeds of about $69 million to reduce debt. Lyondell Chemical ( LYO) said it will stop making a foam chemical called toluene diisocyanate at its Lake Charles, La., plant. The company will take a pretax charge of $195 million, or 49 cents a share after tax, on the move. Lyondell will also book $30 million pretax charge, or 8 cents a share after tax, related to participation in a mutual insurance consortium. The charges involve Lyondell's exposure to claims by others in the consortium related primarily to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The company said the pretax value of lost production in late September 2005 caused by Hurricane Rita is about $75 million to $100 million, or 19 cents to 25 cents a share after tax. Shares of big energy players were down earlier in the day, but some a few pulled up to unchanged or better. ConocoPhillips ( COP) rose 21 cents to $60.29. Chevron ( CVX) was down a penny to $57.28. Royal Dutch Petroleum ( RD) was unchanged at $62.80. BP ( BP) was up 54 cents at $67.11 and ExxonMobil ( XOM) picked up 18 cents to $56.48.