Storm, inventories send oil prices higher

News from a number of different directions combined to send crude oil prices much higher on Wednesday. Brent crude September contracts on the International Petroleum Exchange in London were $1.45 higher by late afternoon to $77.35 per barrel, near its all-time high and up $4 since the beginning of the week.

The continuing conflict in the Middle East was only part of the reason for the sessiona��s price rise. Crude oil inventories in the United States were down by 1.8 million barrels and gasoline stockpiles were 100,000 barrels lower last week amid lower imports into the US and reduced refinery runs. The new data sent gasoline and heating oil futures higher. Unleaded gasoline gained 5.88 cents to $2.3350 per gallon and September contracts for heating oil were 4.26 cents higher to $2.1225 per gallon. In addition, the US National Hurricane Center issued warnings that Tropical Storm Chris could strengthen into a hurricane and find its way into the Gulf of Mexico by later in the week.

In metals markets on Wednesday, gold added $4 to $650.60/$651.35 after going as high as $655.45 earlier. Three-month copper was also higher, gaining $35 to $7,805 per tonne ahead of news as to whether or not workers at Escondida mine in Chile would go out on strike. BHP Billiton, which controls the mine, was expected to make an offer to the workers soon.

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