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Oil prices head toward record $49.40
Updated: 2004-09-27 11:36

Oil prices pushed above $49 a barrel on Monday, approaching record levels as worries about the stability of supplies from Iraq, Nigeria and Russia compounded concerns over low fuel stocks ahead of winter.

U.S. light crude climbed to a session high at $49.36 a barrel, up 48 cents and just 4 cents below the all-time intraday peak set in late August at $49.40.

At 10:38 p.m. EDT Sunday, U.S. oil was 32 cents higher at $49.20.

Oil was driven higher last week by a big dip in U.S. oil stockpiles, at a time when inventories should be building ahead of winter months.

Dealers shrugged off as too little some loans of oil to refiners from U.S. emergency stockpiles.

Clashes in Saudi Arabia between security forces and suspected al Qaeda members at the weekend, along with continued attacks on oil infrastructure in Iraq, have heightened concerns over the potential for a severe disruption to crude flows from the Middle East.

Rebels in Nigeria, Africa's top oil exporter, said at the weekend they would extend an uprising across the country's entire oil-producing southern delta, where Royal Dutch/Shell has evacuated more than 200 staff from two oilfields due to increasing violence.

And there is still uncertainty over the stability of supplies from YUKOS, Russia's top exporter, after the company's battle against bankruptcy led to hiccups in output and deliveries last week.

"All these factors create apprehension in the market and reinforces the view that we're on a knife's edge in terms of supply and demand," said Daniel Hynes, industry analyst at ANZ Bank in Melbourne.

"The uncertainties heighten the risk premium applied to this market. Another move to test the $49.40 could well happen this week."

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday that non-commercial crude speculators on the New York Mercantile Exchange doubled their net long positions to 26,742 in the week to Sept. 21, in a bet that oil prices would rise.

That likelihood was bolstered after Hurricane Ivan thrashed through the Gulf of Mexico, delaying oil shipments and disrupting offshore production.

Global supplies are straining to meet the fastest growth in oil demand in 24 years. World crude output is close to its limits with only the top exporter, Saudi Arabia, holding any significant spare capacity of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd).

The OPEC producers' cartel, which controls more than half of global crude exports, is producing close to 30 million bpd, the highest level since the late 1970s.

Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah said on Saturday that OPEC had done all it could to cool prices.

"The increase in prices is not due to a supply shortage but concern that supplies are not stable," Attiyah told reporters.

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