NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil futures slumped Tuesday, trading in a tight range before settling ahead of weak weekly inventory data. The April crude contract shed 38 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $81.49 a barrel, paring its losses since the price approached $80 earlier in the session. Late Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, said crude oil inventories rose 6.5 million barrels in the week ended Mar. 5. The government's own data from the Energy Information Administration will be released an hour after Wednesday's opening bell. Analysts surveyed by Platts believe crude stocks rose by 2.1 million barrels last week. Schork Group analyst Hamza Khan said that was one of several factors weighing on prices Tuesday. The reports are expected to reflect a 338,000-barrel drawdown in gasoline stocks, while distillate inventory levels probably fell by 950,000 barrels. Several news reports suggested crude was being dragged down by the rising dollar, which itself got some lift after a
Chinese official reiterated the country's commitment to buying Treasury bonds. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose 0.2%. Phil Flynn, energy analyst at PFGBEST, also highlighted an earlier Dow Jones report suggesting Chinese officials may relax the yuan's peg to the dollar, but he later discussed crude's continued difficulties holding around the $80 level. "Psychologically, $80 is a very strong support, and most aren't convinced about what's going to take it out," Flynn said. "Bottom line, the market is a little overdone, so it's pulling back." The United States Oil Fund ETF ( USO) shed 24 cents, or 0.6%, to $39.55 and the PowerShares DB Oil Fund ETF ( DBO) lost 18 cents, or 0.7%, to $27.60. Among major integrated stocks, Exxon Mobil ( XOM) gained 30 cents, or 0.5%, to close at $66.78 and ConocoPhillips ( COP) gained 12 cents, or 0.2%, to $50.85. Chevron ( CVX) lost 15 cents, or 0.2%, to finish at $74.49, amid plans to slash 2,000 jobs and take bids on some refining operations around the globe. The NYSE Oil Index was fell 0.08%, while the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index declined by 0.6%.
Oil and natural gas company Denbury Resources ( DNR) was one of the stocks seeing heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange as Denbury and Encore Acquisition Company ( EAC) said they received the requisite support from shareholders to merge. Denbury's stock gained 14 cents, or 0.9%, to $15.43 and Encore, which acquires and develops oil and natural gas reserves from onshore fields in the U.S., saw shares finish 58 cents lower, or down 1.1%, at $51.65. The April natural gas contract lost a penny, or 0.2%, to settle at $4.52 per million British thermal units. "Natural gas prices continued to slide as support from winter weather wanes and the realization that production is outperforming expectations (once again) is settling in," said Barclays Capital analyst Biliana Pehlivanova. "Last week's bearish injection scared any remaining bullish sentiment away, and prices skid lower all along the forward curve." The United States Natural Gas Fund ( UNG) ticked 7 cents, or 0.9%, to $8.19 although natural gas producers were broadly higher by the end of the session. Chesapeake Energy ( CHK) gained 11 cents, or 0.4%, to close at $25.70 and Devon Energy ( DVN) rose $1.16, or 1.7%, to $70.85. The April heating oil contract lost a penny, or 0.7%, to settle at $2.09 while the April gasoline contract shed 3 cents, or 1.3% to finish at $2.26 a gallon. -- Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York.