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Crude rising on OPEC concerns

Iraqi violence, Nigeria unrest also spur fears

VIENNA -- Crude oil futures closed in on $49 a barrel yesterday as traders considered the possibility of another OPEC production cut, turmoil in Nigeria, and violence in Iraq ahead of the election.

Prices reversed course after falling early in the day in what appeared to be profit-taking after last week's sharp move higher and as forecasters called for near-normal temperatures in the week ahead.

Light sweet crude for March delivery rose 28 cents to settle at $48.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil futures are nearly 40 percent higher than a year ago.

In other Nymex trade, February heating oil futures were up 1.95 cents to $1.4032 per gallon, natural gas futures climbed 23.6 cents to $6.476, and gasoline futures were down less than a penny at $1.299 per gallon.

Brent crude rose 28 cents to $46.01 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange.

''Certainly, the cold weather in the US is a factor driving up prices to close to $50 a barrel," said Victor Shum, oil analyst at Purvin & Gertz, an energy consulting firm.

But weather forecaster Meteorlogix said the weather is expected to return to near-normal conditions by today.

Oil analyst Deborah White of SG Securities in London said that even before the big chill in the Northeast, markets were nervous about the Iraqi elections and the ministerial meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, both slated for Jan. 30.

Iran yesterday appeared to come out against further production cutbacks, easing some concerns about the Vienna meeting.

OPEC has acted on its decision in December to cut production by 1 million barrels a day to its daily target of 27 million barrels.

This has contributed to a 20 percent price gain in oil futures.

In Iraq, insurgents have stepped up attacks as the election approaches and sabotage has halted exports from Iraq's northern oil fields around Kirkuk for more than a month.

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