Updated from 2:51 p.m. ESTColder weather in the U.S. helped oil prices rebound from an early decline and close higher Wednesday -- a rare reprieve from the downturn of recent weeks. Near-dated contracts for light, sweet crude ended up $1.03 at $52.24 a barrel on the Nymex. Meanwhile, other products in the energy complex were mixed. Natural gas futures were off 41 cents at $6.23 per million British thermal units. Gasoline was up a penny at $1.38 a gallon, and heating oil tacked on 2 cents at $1.50 a gallon. Bullish sentiment from veteran investor T. Boone Pickens also aided oil in putting the brakes on its slump. Pickens was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as repeating his forecast for an average price of $70 a barrel in 2007. Crude finished 2006 at $61.05. Since then, it has fallen 14% as unusually warm temperatures settled over much of the country. This week that's changing, but not everyone is convinced the more seasonable weather of the past few days will have much of a sustained buoying effect. "From a heating standpoint, the current cold snap won't be that helpful unless we have a really brutal winter," says Evan Smith, co-manager of San Antonio-based U.S. Global Investors ( PSPFX) Global Resources Fund. Smith points to relatively high inventory levels as a bearish factor. He sees oil prices remaining in the $50 to $60 a barrel range in the first half before trending up toward $65 later in the year.
In terms of long-term stock picks, he likes Canada's Suncor Energy ( SU) because of low political risk and its location next door to the U.S. market. An added bonus is that the company has oil sands interests, he says. From a technical analysis viewpoint, one chart watcher sees another price dip as a possibility. "The daily and weekly charts show a steady downtrend," says Deron Wagner, founder of Cooper City, Fla.-based Morpheus Capital. Using Fibonacci retracement analysis, a form of chart interpretation, he can see support kicking in between $45 and $50 a barrel. Turning to the energy patch, Friedman Billings Ramsey upped its rating on Tesoro Petroleum ( TSO) to outperform from market-perform and increased its stock price target to $83 a share from $74. The stock was recently trading up 3.2% at around $71. Elsewhere, Lehman Brothers trimmed its price target on coal producer Peabody Energy ( BTU) to $55 a share from $65. The stock was moving down 0.1% at about $39. Bear Stearns initiated coverage in Aegean Marine Petrol ( ANW) with an outperform rating and a target price of $22 a share. The shares were rallying 1.9% at $15.82. The U.S. Oil ( USO) ETF was gaining 1.8% in recent action.