Oil rises near US$98 even as US economy contracts


OIL finished near US$98 Wednesday, maintaining the momentum that has driven it to four-month highs and pushed up prices at the pump.

 A report that showed the US economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter tempered the gains a bit. Still, oil rose 37 cents to finish at US$97.94 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's the ninth increase in the last 11 trading sessions and oil shows a gain of US$6 a barrel for the year so far.
The government also said that crude oil supplies rose by 5.9 million barrels last week, more than twice what analysts expected, as imports increased. Just a few weeks ago a report showing that big an increase in supplies likely would have sunk oil prices. But traders say conditions now favor higher gas prices.
Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, said "there's room for additional upside price progress" and he expects "additional strength to the US$100 area." Oil hasn't topped US$100 a barrel since early May.
He also said a statement from the Federal Reserve reaffirming its commitment to try to stimulate growth by keeping borrowing costs low supported oil.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, gained 54 cents to end at US$114.90 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
- Wholesale gasoline rose 6 cents to US$3.03 per gallon.
- Natural gas rose 8 cents to US$3.34 per 1,000 cubic feet.
- Heating oil was up about a penny at US$3.12 a gallon. 


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