Oil ends just shy of $50

Stock market rally helps lift crude in late session trading. Crude futures settle up $1.25 after choppy day of trade.

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By Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Oil prices ended the session higher on Tuesday, just shy of the $50 a barrel threshold, as a Wall Street rally picked up steam late in the trading day.

Crude for May delivery settled up $1.25 to $49.66 a barrel.

The stock rally came on the final day of the first quarter - a day on which money managers often put funds to work. While the major indexes are down for the quarter, they have risen in the past month; the S&P was up 7% in March going into Tuesday's session.

Stocks rose despite a slew of mixed economic data. The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index rose slightly, while the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index of 20 major cities fell at record monthly and annual rates.

Oil prices were supported by the stock rally, since Wall Street serves as a barometer for sentiment about the health of the economy.

The dollar largely slipped Tuesday on the back of stronger global equities. Crude oil is priced in U.S. dollars around the globe, so daily fluctuations in the value of the greenback push the price of crude around.

Excess supply: Excess supply and continued concerns over the ailing U.S. auto industry continued to keep prices in check, however.

Crude oil stocks are expected to have increased by 3.2 million barrels last week, according to a pre-report analyst survey by Platts, a global energy information provider. Meanwhile, gasoline stockpiles are expected to have fallen by 1.8 million barrels.

Oil prices rose as high as $54 a barrel last week, in tandem with a stock rally, as investors cheered Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan to remove toxic assets from the balance sheets of banks. But an analyst said the oil market can not escape the fundamentals of supply and demand.

"Some of the initial exuberance is wearing off and there is a recollection it is going to be a difficult year in 2009, and that is going to have negative impacts for oil and oil products," said Rachel Ziemba, energy analyst at RGE Monitor.

The way the market deals with the excess in crude supply will push oil prices going forward.

"I really think the driver going forward is the cuts of OPEC, whether they are going to be able to whittle away at the supply overhang that we have seen," said Ziemba. Leaders from the worlds largest economies, the G-20, are meeting in London on Thursday to discuss the global economic downturn.

"The G-20 impact on the dollar and the stock market will be the main driver for oil," wrote Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Alaron trading, in his daily energy market report. "Economic uncertainty and big supply are the two competing factors."

Gasoline: As the summer driving season gets underway, the price at the pump has been on the rise. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline held steady at $2.048, even with previous day's price, according to motorist group AAA. This ends thirteen days of consecutive increases. To top of page

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