VIENNA, Austria – Crude oil futures prices seesawed Tuesday as traders focused on continued mild U.S. winter weather ahead of the midweek petroleum stocks report from the Energy Department (search).
Analysts said that the U.S. data, due Wednesday, and possible speculative trading were most likely to drive prices less than four weeks ahead of a special OPEC meeting that will decide whether to further cut output.
After being down for much of the day, light sweet crude for February delivery was up 13 cents at $42.10 per barrel in electronic trading in Europe ahead of the opening of the New York Mercantile Exchange (search). Heating oil was up more than half a cent at $1.1980 a gallon.
Brent crude was down $1.44 at $39.02 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange (search) in London.
Esa Ramasamy, oil editorial manager at energy reporting agency Platts, said the market was still looking for direction.
Beyond the weather, futures were likely to take direction from the Energy Department figures.
Distillate levels in the United States — the world's largest energy consumer — are lower than a year ago, and colder weather sparks higher demand for heating fuel. Distillates include heating oil, diesel and jet fuel, all premiums as winter bites in the Northern Hemisphere.
"We have to watch the weekly numbers coming out tomorrow," said Paul Horsnell, head of energy research at Barclays Capital in London. He said the market continues to focus on "distillates and the continuation of relatively mild weather on the (U.S.) East Coast."
While crude oil futures are around $13 per barrel cheaper than the highs recorded in late October, prices are just about 30 percent higher compared to year-ago levels.
Markets were roiled in 2004 on persistent supply fears and unrest in key producers Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq. Recently, heating oil shortages have caused energy markets to spike as demand rises during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Seeking to maintain higher prices without seeing them explode, ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) plan to meet Jan. 30 to decide on the need for production cutbacks beyond the 1 million barrels a day they agreed on last month.
OPEC sources at the organization's headquarters in Vienna said ahead of that gathering that acting Secretary General Purnomo Yusgiantoro of Indonesia had been replaced as of Sunday by Kuwait's Adnan Shihab-Eldin, the head of OPEC's research division.
Purnomo was believed to have asked to step down. With his tenure marked by occasionally conflicting pronouncements, analysts said the change would likely strengthen OPEC' attempts to speak with a unified voice.