Oil prices stay strong above US$51 a barrel on OPEC worries

SINGAPORE (AP) Crude futures held steady Thursday above the US$51 a barrel mark, as traders remained jittery over mixed signals from OPEC and winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Light, sweet crude for April delivery rose 42 cents to US$51.59 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe. Heating oil rose more than a cent to US$1.4935 a gallon (3.8 liters). Brent crude rose 53 cents to US$49.04 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange. Oil prices had pulled back slightly Wednesday as the president of OPEC sought to quell concerns that the group would cut production. Sheik Ahmad Fahad al Ahmad al Sabah, who is also Kuwait's oil minister, said OPEC won't allow prices to "surge to record levels." His comments tempered concerns about a possible supply cut on March 16 when OPEC members gather in Iran, fueled in part by comments from Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi, who said the kingdom would not let supply rise above current levels during the second quarter. The oil market was concerned about Naimi's comments because Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of crude and is an influential member of OPEC. Victor Shum, oil analyst at Purvin & Gertz, an energy consultant agency believes the current high prices will make "production cuts unlikely." "Fundamentally, the market supports the bullish price because demand is strong," he said. Traders have cited concerns over cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere and the amount of U.S. energy stockpiles, especially of heating oil. Frosty weather in the U.S. Northeast will continue to spur heating demand. Oil prices also eased Wednesday after South Korea denied that it would sell the U.S. dollar as part of its plan to diversify its foreign reserve holdings. A weaker U.S. dollar generally triggers a rise in crude prices because oil is priced in that currency, making it relatively cheaper when bought in yen, won or other currencies. Associated Press

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