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Oil falls as warm weather looms

NEW YORK -- Oil prices pulled back after briefly surpassing $62 a barrel yesterday, as traders regarded forecasts of warm US weather as an opportunity to take some profits.

Crude futures had risen more than a $1 a barrel a day earlier, after the US government reported drops in crude, gasoline, and distillate stockpiles. But with the National Weather Service predicting warmer-than-normal weather over the next two weeks in most areas of the United States, including the heating oil-consuming Northeast, traders saw little reason to push crude out of its recent narrow range.

Gasoline futures, however, continued on their upward climb; they have spiked more than 20 percent over the past month due to US refinery problems, falling inventories, and strong demand ahead of the spring driving season. By contrast, crude has risen less than 3 percent over the past month.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery fell 18 cents to $61.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising as high as $62.30 in early trading.

Brent crude for April delivery fell 17 cents to settle at $62.33 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Exchange. On Nymex, heating oil futures fell 0.61 cent to settle at $1.7613 a gallon, and natural gas prices fell 12.7 cents to settle at $7.239 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The Energy Information Administration reported Thursday that US natural gas storage fell by 102 billion cubic feet to 1.63 trillion cubic feet last week -- around what most analysts were expecting.

Keeping energy prices from falling very much, though, was gasoline, which rose 3.06 cents to settle at $1.9261 a gallon.

Climbing gasoline futures have driven up pump prices; the average US retail price of a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.507 yesterday, up from $2.18 a month ago, according to AAA.