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12/18/2003

Oil prices soar, flirting with $34

Dow Jones Newswires

NEW YORK — Crude futures prices surged Wednesday, leaping to heights not seen since just before the U.S.-led war in Iraq, as government inventory data revealed oil inventories had again dwindled to the lowest level ever recorded in December.
January light, sweet crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 46 cents higher at $33.35 a barrel, after touching $33.77 — a front-month high not seen since March 17, when crude prices reached $36.40 a barrel.
That mid-March high was dashed soon after, as well-financed speculators, such as commodity funds, sold off contracts to lock in profit on the eve of the Iraq war, which began March 20.
Wednesday on London’s International Petroleum Exchange, February Brent settled at $30.59 a barrel, up 62 cents, after hitting a high of $30.90.
U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell 5.1 million barrels, or 1.8 percent, to 272.8 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 12, amid a drop in crude imports, the Energy Department reported Wednesday morning.
That set a new low for December oil stocks since the Energy Information Administration began collecting inventory data in 1982.