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Oil hits $140 for the first time

Oil reached $140 a barrel for the first time ever Thursday following reports that Libya may cut production and an OPEC official said crude could hit $170 a barrel this summer.

Meanwhile, the dollar's decline against the euro added further upward price pressure.

"I think this is just a combination of all those" factors, said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures in California.


Light, sweet crude for August delivery ended the trading day at a record settlement of $139.64 a barrel, up $5.09, on the New York Mercantile Exchange - the third-largest single-day jump on a dollar basis in trading history. The previous settlement mark of $138.54 was set June 6, when oil prices jumped a record of $10.75 a barrel.

Just before the close, oil spiked to an intraday record of $140.39 a barrel. The previous trading high of $139.89 was set June 16.

Supply worries. Ongoing concerns over supply disruptions in Africa and the Middle East were the impetus for the surge.

The largest supply concern came out of Libya, which threatened to reduce production.

According to a report by the Bloomberg news service, Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, said reductions may be made because the market is oversupplied.

Other reasons given by Ghanem: A response to sanctions against Iran, also a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and a bill being discussed in Congress that could allow lawsuits against OPEC countries.

"Even if they pulled 300,000 barrels a day off the market, that would have an impact," said Tom Orr, head of research at Weeden & Co.

Speaking to France 24 television Thursday, OPEC president Chakib Khelil said oil prices could rise to between $150 and $170 a barrel during the summer. He added that he didn't think oil would hit $200 a barrel.

Earlier in the week, Chevron Corp. (CVX, Fortune 500) said workers belonging to Pengassan, a white collar union in Nigeria, had gone on strike. Strike concerns persisted Thursday, threatening to shutter oil producing facilities.

Tension between Israel and Iran was also a concern. On Wednesday, Iran's speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, warned that a military strike by western nations or Israel would "cost them heavily."

Fed rate hold. Some oil investors may also have been a little disappointed over the Fed's decision Wednesday to keep a key interbank lending rate at 2%, according to Phil Flynn, senior market analyst with Alaron Trading in Chicago.

On Thursday morning, the Commerce Department revised the country's gross domestic product upward to a 1% annual rate. But the GDP, along with the Fed's statement, may not have painted as positive a picture as many oil investors had hoped.

"You put the two together and it wasn't enough to... wow anybody," said Flynn.

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