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Oil price heading to $100 a barrel

NEW YORK — The price of oil is poised for another run at $100 a barrel after a global economic rebound has sent it surging 34 percent since May.

Benchmark oil for February delivery rose $1.54 on Friday to end the year at $91.38 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It reached $92.06 earlier in the day, its highest level since Oct. 6, 2008.

Flying, shipping a package and ordering a pizza all likely would get more expensive in 2011 if crude futures continue to climb and companies pass along higher energy costs. Some economists say rising energy prices will slow economic growth.

The United States is the world's largest oil consumer, but prices since spring have been on a roll primarily because of rising demand in developing countries, especially China. China's oil consumption is expected to rise 5 percent in 2011; that compares with less than 1 percent growth forecast for the United States.

Higher oil prices have fattened oil company profits. Excluding BP PLC, the four other major investor-owned oil companies posted combined profits of $59.7 billion in the first nine months of 2010, a 49 percent increase from the year before. Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron Corp. and Total SA are expected to earn $81 billion for the full year.

The fifth oil giant, BP, was held responsible for the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history and booked $39.9 billion in charges related to the disaster. Excluding special expenses like the Gulf of Mexico spill, analysts say the company will still earn $20.2 billion in 2010.

"There's nothing this industry can't survive," Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit said.

The price of energy and other commodities shifted into high gear in late August when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the central bank was prepared to stimulate the economy by buying government bonds. The $600 billion program didn't start until November, but speculators had already starting bidding up the value of asset classes like oil.

A further oil price spurt came in late November as it became clear that Congress was likely to extend for two more years tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is capable of raising output, if it needs to, by more than 5 million barrels per day. Still, Morgan Stanley estimates that the rising energy needs of China and other emerging economies will consume about half of that amount over the next two years. That could create supply pressures similar to those that preceded the price spike of 2008, when oil soared to $147 a barrel.

In other Nymex trading Friday, natural gas for February delivery rose 6.7 cents to settle at $4.405 per 1,000 cubic feet. Natural gas prices are less than half where they were in 2008, due largely to technological advances.

Oil price heading to $100 a barrel 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 7:27pm]
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