Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Oil down, dollar up

Crude oil futures pulled back Friday after fears of a major disruption of Iraqi oil exports dissipated. A stronger dollar also lessened investors' appetite for crude.

In Iraq, a key oil export pipeline that was bombed Thursday will likely be repaired by Friday night, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Word of the explosion had raised concerns that Iraqi exports would fall sharply and sent oil prices surging higher on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the dollar strengthened against the euro Friday, making oil and other commodities less appealing as a hedge against inflation. A stronger dollar also makes oil more expensive to overseas investors.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell $1.93 to $105.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Over the past three days, oil prices rose $6.72, or 6.6 percent.

"We've had a big price increase, and I think traders are looking for excuses to take profits," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois.

Concerns about the U.S. economy also weighed on prices. The Commerce Department said consumer spending edged up by just 0.1 percent last month, the poorest showing since September 2006. Energy investors worry that a cooling economy will use less fuel.

Analysts are split on oil's future direction. Many think prices will rise to new records in coming months as the dollar resumes its decline. The Federal Reserve is expected to cut interest rates several more times this year, and lower interest rates tend to weaken the dollar. Many analysts say the weaker dollar has been largely responsible for oil's run to a record near $112 last week.

Other analysts argue that such high prices can't be justified in an environment in which supplies are rising and demand is falling. Several forecasters have cut oil demand growth predictions for this year, and demand for gasoline has fallen for nine straight weeks. Domestic supplies, meanwhile, have mostly risen in recent weeks.

"The price of oil still is out of whack with normal supply and demand fundamentals," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp., in Chicago, in a research note.

Other energy futures were mixed Friday. April heating oil futures fell 3.98 cents to $3.1085 a gallon while April gasoline futures fell 1.13 cent to $2.705 a gallon. May natural gas futures rose 14.5 cents to $9.832 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude futures slipped $1.22 to $103.78 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Graphic by: