Crude Oil Falls

Crude oil fell after a government report showed that U.S. fuel demand declined to the lowest in almost five years.

Consumption averaged 19.5 million barrels a day during the past four weeks, down 6.6 percent from a year earlier, and the lowest since October 2003, the Energy Department said today in a weekly report. Oil and gasoline supplies dropped as refineries cut operating rates to the lowest in at least 19 years.

Crude oil for November delivery fell 94 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $105.67 a barrel at the 2:30 p.m. close of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices rose as much as $2.89, or 2.7 percent, before the report's release at 10:35 a.m. in Washington.

Production platforms, refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico were shut last week in the aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck earlier this month.

Ike made landfall near Houston, the largest U.S. petroleum port, on Sept. 13. The Houston Ship Channel partly reopened to daylight transit by oceangoing tankers on Sept. 17. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the biggest U.S. oil-import terminal, resumed tanker unloading on Sept. 15 after being shut Sept. 10.

U.S. energy producers still have about 62 percent of oil production idled in the Gulf, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said in a statement on its Web site today. The area accounts for about 26 percent of U.S. oil output.

Supplies of crude oil fell 1.52 million barrels to 290.2 million in the week ended Sept. 19, the department said. Crude- oil imports tumbled 16 percent to 7.14 million barrels a day, the lowest since January 2000.

Gasoline stockpiles dropped 5.9 million barrels to 178.7 million barrels, the lowest since 1967. Inventory levels prior to 1990 were reported on a monthly basis. Inventories of distillate fuel, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, fell 4.18 million barrels to 125.4 million barrels.

Refineries operated at 66.7 percent of capacity last week, the lowest since the department began compiling weekly figures in 1989. The previous low was 69.8 percent of capacity, touched in September 2005, when refineries along the Gulf Coast were shut after hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the region.

Brent crude oil for November settlement declined 36 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $102.72 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Gold rose on speculation a proposed $700 billion plan to stabilize U.S. financial markets would weaken the dollar and boost demand for the precious metal as an alternative investment. Silver also climbed.

Gold futures
for December delivery rose $3.80, or 0.4 percent, to $895 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The metal gained 13 percent last week, the most since October 1999, and is up 6.8 percent this year.

Silver futures
for December delivery climbed 27 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $13.44 an ounce. The metal still has fallen 9.9 percent this year.,
9/24/2008 12:22:03 PM