Oil hits 5-week high, nears $80

By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Oil prices gained for a fourth straight session, climbing to their highest level in more than five weeks as cold weather swept across the country and the dollar weakened.

Crude oil for February delivery rose 72 cents, or nearly 1%, to settle at $78.77 a barrel -- the highest since Nov. 18, when prices settled at $79.58 a barrel.

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Cooler-than-normal temperatures have supported rising oil prices, said James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group.

He added that temperatures in the Northeast have been about five degrees lower than average and are expected to remain that way for the near term.

Prices were also boosted by a softer dollar, which edged lower against its major rivals. Crude oil, like other commodities, is priced in dollars, and a weaker greenback can help support prices.

Oil prices had retreated for nine consecutive sessions, the longest slide since July 2001, and fell below $70 two weeks ago as rising inventories fueled demand concerns.

Since then, prices have risen more than 12% as government reports have shown crude supplies falling more than twice as much as analysts' predictions two weeks in a row.

Last week, the Energy Information Administration reported a drop of 4.9 million barrels in crude stocks. Analysts were expecting supplies to dip by 2 million barrels, according to a consensus estimate collected by energy information provider Platts.

And as the year ends, Cordier said oil prices could touch $80 a barrel but he expects them to back off to the mid-$70 range soon after.

Gasoline prices. The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline increased to $2.603, up 0.3 cent from the previous day's price of $2.60, according to motorist group AAA. It was the fourth consecutive increase. To top of page

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