[OIL PRICES] Crude Oil Is Steady After Report of Natural-Gas Supply Gain

Crude oil was little changed after an Energy Department report showed that natural gas supplies rose and the U.S. Congress approved legislation that strengthens oversight of electronic energy trading.

Stockpiles climbed 93 billion cubic feet last week, the department said. The Senate approved the measure by a 81-15 vote, a margin large enough to override a threatened veto from President George W. Bush. Oil prices were up before the gas report's release on signs that European fuel demand will rise.

``We've been waiting for a correction to happen,'' said Daniel Flynn, a broker with Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. ``The bearish natural-gas inventory number appears to have started the selling today. I think once it was clear that we weren't going to break through $130 anytime soon, the funds started selling.''

Crude oil for June delivery dropped 10 cents to settle at $124.12 a barrel at 2:48 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures touched $120.75, the lowest since May 7. The contract surged to a record $126.98 on May 13.

Analysts forecast a natural-gas inventory gain of 88 billion cubic feet, according to the median of 23 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

The House approved the bill governing electronic trading yesterday by a veto-proof majority. The measure is part of a farm bill. The legislation gives the Commodity Futures Trading Commission authority to regulate contract trades that either have a large volume, are used to help determine prices or are linked to a regulated contract.

It also requires an audit trail and record-keeping for electronic exchanges, imposes limits on speculation, calls for market monitoring and increases penalties the commission can levy to $1 million.

Intercontinental Exchange
Brent crude oil for June settlement fell 61 cents, or 0.5 percent, to settle at $121.25 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. Trading resumed at 2 p.m. after a power failure shut the exchange earlier today. The contract touched a record $125.90 on May 9.

Prices might not fall much further, because of growing global demand for distillate fuels, such as heating oil and diesel. The profit margin, or crack spread, for making a barrel of oil into one of heating oil surged to $29.554 a barrel on May 13, the highest since at least 1989, according to futures prices.

``The heating oil crack tells me that this rally isn't over,'' said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Galena, Illinois-based energy consulting firm Ritterbusch & Associates. ``I think prices will be higher when we come in next week.''

Source: Bloomberg| by Mark Shenk

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