Oil retreats on profit-taking

July 31, 2007 - 0:0

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices retreated Monday from one-year highs, following gasoline futures lower on word that refineries in New Jersey and England were restarting.

Gas prices, meanwhile, extended their decline at the pump. Retail prices often fall in the middle of the summer before ticking higher again around the Labor Day holiday.
“We’re in that kind of midsummer swoon,” said Kevin Saville, managing editor for the Americas energy desk at Platts, the energy research arm of the McGraw-Hill Cos.
Reports that ConocoPhillips is restarting a refinery in New Jersey after an unexpected shutdown last week and that Exxon Mobil Corp. is restarting a British facility shuttered by fire gave investors new reasons to sell gas futures.
Gasoline for August delivery fell by 2.16 cents to $2.0801 per gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.
Gas futures have fallen by nearly 27 cents over the past two weeks on a growing sense that the domestic refining industry is finally producing enough gas after experiencing an unusual number of maintenance problems and outages during the spring and early summer. Oil prices, however, have surged on perceptions of tight global supplies, technical buying by investment funds and strong economic growth numbers.
Light, sweet crude for September delivery lost 80 cents to $76.22 a barrel on the Nymex after rising more than $2 Friday to $77.02, a cent shy of their July 2006 record close.
Some analysts tied Friday’s gain to the Commerce Department’s report that the U.S. economy as measured by the gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 3.4 percent in the second quarter. However, some analysts say speculative buying by investment funds had more to do with the run-up.
“The strong pricing we have experienced in recent days is primarily due to institutional investors plowing surplus cash into the oil market, not really due to physical issues,” said Victor Shum, an analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore, who added that Monday’s decline was also due to profit taking.
Meanwhile, retail gas prices, which typically lag gasoline futures, fell 3 cents over the weekend to a national average of $2.89 a gallon on Monday, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Led by the futures market, retail prices are at their lowest point since peaking at $3.227 a gallon in late May.
In other futures trading, Nymex heating oil declined 2.72 cents to $2.0459 a gallon while natural gas prices rose 26.2 cents to $6.47 per 1,000 cubic feet on forecasts for higher temperatures this week.
In London, September Brent crude fell 62 cents to $75.64 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.
There are some indications that speculative buying that has driven oil’s advance is ebbing, and that could remove some of the fuel behind oil’s recent rally.
“The latest set of ... data shows that speculators trimmed back their exposure to the petroleum complex last week,” wrote Kevin Norrish, an analyst with Barclays Capital, in a research note.
Investors are also closely watching OPEC, whose officials have been giving mixed signals about whether the cartel will decide during a September meeting to boost production. Some Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries officials have recently suggested oil is priced too high, while others have stated that there is no reason to boost production.
Saville thinks many of the comments by OPEC officials have been blown out of proportion by traders seeking any reason to buy, or sell, oil futures.
“Any time anyone connected with OPEC breathes, they try to latch on to it,” Saville said