Crude Oil Prices Plunge, Settle Below $50

Crude oil prices closed below $50 a barrel for the first time in more than two months on Friday, declining by more than $5 a barrel in the past week on rising U.S. supplies and slower economic growth.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery fell $2.27 to settle at $49.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search). That is lowest settlement price since Feb. 18, when Nymex oil futures closed at $48.35.

Gasoline futures fell by more than a nickel on Friday, trading at $1.495 per gallon on Nymex. Still, pump prices average more than $2.20 a gallon nationwide and the peak demand period is right around the corner.

In the past week, oil prices have been on a downward trend due to a spate of bearish news, the most recent being the Commerce Department's (search) announcement that the U.S. economy grew at a slower-than-expected rate of 3.1 percent in the first quarter.

On Wednesday, the Energy Department (search) said inventories of crude oil in the largest energy-consuming country grew by 5.5 million barrels last week to 324.4 million barrels, or 9 per cent above year-ago levels — the tenth time supplies have risen in 11 weeks.

President Bush has also signaled that he would act to reduce crude prices, first when he called on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah (search) Monday to expand production, and on Wednesday when he urged using closed military bases as sites for new oil refineries.

While oil futures have fallen their recent peak above $58 a barrel, prices remain more than 30 percent higher than a year ago.

Strong global demand, concerns about limited excess production capacity and fears of unplanned supply disruptions have kept prices high in recent years.