WASHINGTON – Oil prices set a new record Tuesday, approaching $47 a barrel, as concerns about Iraqi and Russian output dominated markets that had been calmed a day earlier by the results of a vote in Venezuela.
Light crude for September delivery climbed 70 cents to a new settlement high of $46.75 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search).Yukos search
And in Iraq on Tuesday, fighting between U.S. troops and Shiite militants intensified, adding to the oil market's jitters.
"It's just more of the same," said Mike Fitzpatrick, a trader at Fimat USA in New York.
Before the latest round of violence in Najaf, Iraq had been exporting roughly 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, although volumes have fallen recently to about 900,000 barrels per day, according to a source within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Fitzpatrick said some traders were also responding Tuesday to economic data released by the government on Tuesday that showed a rise in housing construction and output at the nation's factories, suggesting that energy consumption would remain strong.
With little spare output capacity around the globe, analysts worry that oil producers would have a difficult time making up for shortfalls at a time of robust demand.
Saudi Arabia said last week it could immediately pump an additional 1.3 million barrels per day, but the comments didn't soothe markets. Experts said the well-intentioned pledge only highlighted the country's limitations.
Prices had fallen on Monday after the president of Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, survived a recall referendum.
If the opposition had won, analysts worried there might have been a major overhaul of the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., and that production would have suffered, at least in the short-term.
Also on Tuesday, a Venezuelan representative of OPEC said the cartel should consider at its Sept. 15 meeting raising the preferred price range for its basket of crudes to between $28 and $35 per barrel by the first quarter of next year.
Ivan Orellana said Venezuela favors lifting the band, which is currently set at $22 to $28 per barrel. Other OPEC members, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have said they want to leave the price range as it stands.
In other Nymex trading on Tuesday, September heating oil futures rose 1.91 cent to $1.2219 a gallon, while unleaded gasoline futures rose 0.10 cent to $1.3055 a gallon.
In London, September Brent crude futures finished the day at $42.99, or 30 cents higher on the International Petroleum Exchange.
In real terms, adjusted for inflation, oil prices are still well below 1980's peak of $80 a barrel, following the Iranian revolution. But average U.S. prices this year so far of $38 are approaching those of 1974, the first oil shock, when crude averaged an inflation-adjusted $43 during the Arab oil embargo.