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Oil rises to near $39 in wake of Bernanke comments

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[January 14, 2009]  VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Oil prices rose to near $39 a barrel Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said a fiscal package could help revitalize the ailing U.S. economy and suggested more stimulus measures might be needed.

DonutsProjections of lower output by Saudi Arabia -- OPEC's main producer -- also lifted prices.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery was up $1.11 to $38.89 a barrel by midday in Europe in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after trading as high as $39.45. The contract rose overnight 19 cents to settle at $37.78.

Bernanke said Tuesday that a $700 billion financial rescue program being discussed by Congress was needed to combat the worst financial crisis to hit the U.S. and the global economy since the 1930s.

He said the stimulus package "could provide a significant boost to economic activity," and that "more capital injections and guarantees may become necessary."


The comments helped boost oil prices Tuesday, with markets still enjoying some momentum Wednesday.

"You're seeing a reaction to Bernanke's comments and an illiquid market retrace toward $40," said Jonathan Kornafel, Asia director for market maker Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore.

Meanwhile, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said Tuesday that oil output for February would fall below its target of 8.05 million barrels a day, bringing market attention back to OPEC's strenuous attempts to keep crude prices from slumping further.

Continued tensions between Russia's Gazprom and the Ukraine's Naftogaz -- and the failure to restart oil flow to Europe -- also boosted crude.

Prices have fallen from as high as $50.47 last week on increased investor concern that a slowing global economy will hurt crude demand.

Investors will be watching for signs of slowing U.S. demand in the weekly oil inventories report to be released Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration.

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The report is expected to show that oil stocks rose 3 million barrels last week, according to the average of estimates in a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. The department said in last week's report that oil stocks jumped 6.7 million barrels the previous week.

The Platts survey also projects that gasoline inventories increased 1.8 million barrels and distillates gained 1.7 million barrels last week.

Investors are anticipating crude demand may recover, based on the prices of monthly contracts later this year. The May contract, for example, trades at $50.88 a barrel.

"You're seeing the full weight of the demand destruction pulling the front-month February contract lower while any stimulus would have more of an effect further out," Kornafel said.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures and natural gas for February delivery stayed steady at $1.15 a gallon and $5.19 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil gained 1 cent to $1.53 a gallon.

In London, February Brent crude rose 88 cents to $45.71 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

[Associated Press; By JAKE NEUBACHER]

Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy contributed to this article.

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


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