Crude Prices Rise on Cold Weather Forecast

Crude futures rose for the fourth day in a row Friday, bringing oil prices to a level not seen since late November as traders pinned a near 7 percent rise in the past week on supply snags and expectations of colder weather.

U.S. light crude (search) on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search) settled up 34 cents at $48.38 a barrel after touching a peak of $48.55 during the open-call session, the highest level since Dec. 1 and about $7 below last October's record.

"Fundamentally, I do think there's support for these prices," said Jamal Qureshi, an oil-markets analyst at Washington-based PFC Energy.

The consultancy estimates that average daily demand of 84.5 million barrels a day will exceed global production by about 1 million barrels a day, requiring fuel to be pulled from storage tanks in order to meet growing consumption, particularly in Asia and the United States.

Qureshi said he expects the supply-demand balance to be reversed by the second quarter, when demand typically slows down, and at that point he wouldn't be surprised to see considerably lower prices.

"We're going to see a lot of that kind of volatility," he said.

Still, some analysts said they believe the latest price run-up exaggerates the actual risks in the market and that supplies are not as tight as traders suggest.

Robert W. Baird & Co. oil analyst George Gaspar conceded that the global supply cushion is "thin," though he said slower demand growth in 2005 and increased production from non-OPEC countries will ease some of the tensions experienced in 2004.

Global oil demand is expected to rise about 1.8 percent to 84 million barrels a day in 2005, compared with a rise of 3.3 percent in 2004, due to a slowdown in economic expansion.

"I think there's an awful lot of hype in the oil market," Gaspar said.

Maybe so. But Esa Ramasamy, oil editorial manager at Platts, said: "I'm doubtful that it will even go to the $40 mark, there's just too much market support for these prices."

— In Norway, bad weather prevented Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Cos (search). from restarting the 140,000 barrel-a-day Draugen field in the Norwegian field. The field was shut down Friday after bad weather prevented repairs to damaged crude oil loading equipment.

— Temperatures will be below normal next week in the U.S. Northeast, the National Weather Service (search) predicted. Oil traders also are watching for a sustained period of freezing weather in the region that could strain heating oil supplies, which are 7 percent lower than last year at this time.

— The OPEC (search) meeting scheduled for Jan. 30 is another factor that traders are jittery about. OPEC ministers are to decide whether to decrease production further following a cut of 1 million barrels a day in the start of 2005.

In Vienna, OPEC's acting secretary general Adnan Shihab-Eldin said the world is adequately supplied with crude. He attributed the recent rise in oil prices to concerns over colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere and the resulting draw on distillates.

Oil prices peaked last October at more than $55 per barrel, but they remain about 39 percent higher than a year ago.