Oil Prices Climb on U.S. Demand Speculation

Crude futures rose above $52 on Monday, as traders responded to speculation that U.S. refineries might be unable to match demand in the latter half of the year.

With little economic news to direct the markets, light, sweet crude (search) futures for June delivery hovered around $51 before shooting up $1.09 to $52.05 per barrel in late trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search).

"There's an old Wall Street adage: Never sell in a quiet market," said Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant LLC in New York. He said crude futures began rallying late in the day as speculators and day traders — many of whom believe that crude will reach $60 or above — took over the low-volume market.

Unleaded gasoline rose 1.1 cent to $1.487 a gallon, while heating oil rose 1.19 cent to $1.443 a gallon.

On London's International Petroleum Exchange (search), June Brent crude futures climbed 69 cents to $51.46 a barrel.

Nymex crude prices, which have been highly volatile in the past weeks, are down more than $6 from their all-time high of $58.28 on April 4.

"For the market to continue its rally up, it needs to be reassured that the economy's recovering," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. "We're going to be very macroeconomically-focused on this crude oil market."

Some analysts remain concerned over U.S. refineries' ability to boost output ahead of summer — and the traditional driving season in the United States — while also looking toward its heating oil production for winter.

The United States is the world's largest consumer of crude oil.

"Market bulls scoff at every bearish signal in the data because they are convinced the second half will be tight, no matter how much oil OPEC pours onto the market in advance," said Energyintel analyst Peter Kemp. "The longer the market sticks to its current range, the more $50 comes to look like a price floor, rather than a ceiling that is occasionally breached."

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) raised its production ceiling by 500,000 barrels in March to nearly 30 million barrels daily, in an effort to boost stocks and steady prices ahead of summer.

The cartel's president, Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah, said OPEC would not raise output, Dow Jones Newswires reported Monday. Al Sabah said there was excess capacity, and that recent oil price volatility was partly due to fears of insufficient supply in the future — not current supply issues.

"I would like to emphasize that OPEC is able to provide oil quantities to the market and is able to cover global oil demand in the short term," Al Sabah said, according to Dow Jones.

OPEC produces about 40 percent of the world's daily oil supply, and instability in member countries helped pushed prices upward in 2004.

On Tuesday, traders will be looking ahead to Wednesday's U.S. inventory data, which is expected to report a rise in crude stocks, Silliere said.