|NEW YORK - Oil prices rose for the first time in four sessions Thursday as investors questioned whether supplies of crude, gasoline and heating oil are adequate to meet demand.
With heating season about to begin, investors are betting demand for crude oil will jump as refineries start producing more heating oil. And refineries that are focused on heating oil will be turning out less gasoline.
The Energy Department on Wednesday reported that crude inventories rose by 1.2 million barrels last week, while supplies of distillates including heating oil fell by 1.2 million barrels. Gasoline supplies fell by 100,000 barrels. Traders view that increase in crude supplies as inadequate, said James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group in Tampa, Fla.
"That's nothing," Cordier said. "We expect to see figures of 3 (million) and 5 (million) barrels."
Light, sweet crude for November delivery rose $1.50 to settle at $81.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after falling more than $1 earlier. Crude's uncertain direction early in the day reflected a battle between investors betting that demand will tighten, and those who feel oil has peaked and begun a seasonal decline.
"This market is going to break seasonally or the global economy is going to find (oil prices are) a bargain," Cordier said.
Oil prices also drew support from heating oil and gasoline futures. Nymex heating oil rose 5.26 cents to settle at $2.2313 a gallon, while November gasoline rose 5.63 cents to settle at $2.0522 a gallon. Prices of both were supported by the inventory declines and several minor refinery outages on the West Coast.