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Oil falls ahead of OPEC meeting
Associated Press
2009-12-22 02:37 AM
Crude oil fell below $73 a barrel Monday ahead of an OPEC meeting where investors expect the cartel to keep production levels unchanged.

By late afternoon, benchmark crude for January delivery, which expires later Monday, fell 95 cents to $72.41 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude for February delivery fell 76 cents to $73.66 a barrel.

Leaders of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reiterated Monday that the group doesn't plan to change output levels at its meeting Tuesday in Luanda, Angola,

OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri of Libya said there is consensus within the oil-producing bloc to maintain its production targets into 2010, indicating the group plans to hold output steady.

"There is a consensus that there is no change," el-Badri told reporters when asked about OPEC's output plans at the upcoming meeting in Luanda. Even for next year, he said, changes to output are "not on our radar at this time."

El-Badri said prices are "very comfortable" for now, reflecting a sentiment sounded by several of the group's oil ministers in recent weeks.

Crude prices have staged an incredible turnaround in the past year, more than doubling from a low near $35 a barrel to trade to a zone many producing countries say they're happy with.

"The market would be surprised if there was any change to output," said Clarence Chu, a trader with Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore. "At near $75, the price is high enough to fund governments and investment, but not so high it damages the global economic recovery."

Iraq took back a remote oil well from Iranian forces over the weekend, a confrontation that briefly sent oil prices higher Friday on investor concerns about a wider conflict, although analysts quickly excluded a lasting impact on the market.

A slight recovery of the euro against the dollar also helped oil prices, as crude valued in dollars becomes cheaper for investors holding other currencies when the greenback weakens.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil advanced 2.14 cents to $1.9353 while gasoline fell 2.58 cents to $1.869. Natural gas fell 12.5 cents to $5.657 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery fell 89 cents to $72.86 on the ICE Futures exchange.

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Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, Hu Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Adam Schreck in Luanda, Angola, contributed to this report.

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