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Oil prices down sharply for a 2nd day

By Jonathan Fahey
The Associated Press

2/21/2013

NEW YORK -- Oil prices plunged for a second day Thursday, raising hopes that a relentless rise in U.S. gasoline prices may slow or reverse at least temporarily.

Benchmark crude oil fell $2.31, or 2.4 percent, to $92.91 per barrel in midday trading in New York, the second drop of 2 percent in two days. Brent crude, which is used to price oil used to make gasoline in many U.S. refineries, fell $1.76 to $113.84 in London.

Crude oil's recent dip is a result of ample supplies and recent speculation that the Federal Reserve may soon allow interest rates to rise slightly, which would reduce the supply of easy cash investors have been using to buy commodities like oil.

The drop in crude hasn't translated into lower pump prices — yet. The average U.S. retail gasoline price rose a penny to $3.78 per gallon ($1 a liter) Thursday, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. Gasoline has risen for 34 days straight since averaging $3.29 a gallon on Jan. 18.

The two day plunge in crude and slightly lower wholesale gasoline futures prices are expected to at least slow the rise in pump prices, and perhaps push them back slightly.

Over the coming weeks, though, gasoline prices are expected to drift higher, as they do nearly every late winter and early spring when refiners close for maintenance and switch to more expensive summer blends. That reduces supplies of gasoline and sends prices up.

This year the oil and gasoline markets began their spring surges early. Oil prices rose sharply in late January and gasoline prices soon followed. For the past three weeks oil wavered between $95 and $98 per barrel before falling Wednesday and Thursday.

"The market got way ahead of itself," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

Oil prices were pushed lower by a transcript of the latest Fed meeting that showed some policymakers expressing doubts about the central bank's bond-buying program. If the Fed curtails or ends the program earlier than anticipated, that could affect economic growth and reduce demand for oil.

The Energy Department reported Thursday that crude supplies in the U.S. grew by 4.1 million barrels last week. That's double what analysts expected. Ample supplies typically translate into lower prices.

Gasoline supplies fell by 2.9 million barrels, slightly less than analysts expected.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.25 per thousand cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 5 cents $3.11 per gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline was down 2 cents to $3.23 per gallon.

Pablo Gorondi contributed to this report from Budapest and Pamela Sampson contributed from Bangkok.

Follow Jonathan Fahey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey .

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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