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Oil hovers below $50 as eventual recovery weighed

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[April 24, 2009]  SINGAPORE (AP) -- Oil prices hovered below $50 a barrel Friday in Asia as investors pondered whether a possible second half recovery will help boost U.S. crude demand, in the doldrums amid rising unemployment and a severe recession.

Benchmark crude for June delivery rose 31 cents to $49.93 a barrel by late afternoon in Singapore in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose Thursday 77 cents to settle at $49.62.

Oil prices have traded near $50 a barrel for most of this month as investors ponder whether massive government stimulus packages around the world will be able to spark a rebound from the global recession.

"The price has been fairly resilient at the $50 level given the oil market fundamentals in the near term are very negative," said Victor Shum, energy analyst with consultancy Purvin & Gertz in Singapore. "Some investors are looking ahead, believing in the eventual revival in global economy."

A spike in joblessness and waning consumer spending during the last six months has helped keep prices from rising further. The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment compensation rose to a seasonally adjusted 640,000, up from a revised 613,000 the previous week. That was slightly above analysts' expectations.

The number of workers continuing to file claims for unemployment benefits topped 6.1 million.

General Motors Corp. said Thursday it will temporarily close 13 assembly plants in the U.S. and Mexico between 3 weeks and 11 weeks, laying off nearly 24,000 workers to pare back a bloated inventory.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which produces about 40 percent of global supply, is next meeting on May 28 and may announced another output cut on top of the 4.2 million a day of quotas reductions the cartel has pledged since September.

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"More bad macroeconomic or company news could pull down oil," Shum said. "If it goes down toward $40, it would put pressure on OPEC to cut."

One sign of the speed of the economic downturn is natural gas in storage is now 36 percent greater than it was at this time last year. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Thursday in its weekly report that natural gas inventories held in underground storage in the lower 48 states are 23 percent above the five-year average.

"Investors can only hold up the price without fundamentals for so long," Shum said.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for May delivery fell 0.29 cent to $1.39 a gallon and heating oil was steady at $1.32 a gallon. Natural gas for May delivery dropped 1.5 cents to $3.39 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent prices rose 20 cents to $50.31 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

[Associated Press; By ALEX KENNEDY]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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