U.S. crude oil futures ended lower on Thursday, coming under pressure as gasoline futures fell sharply on profit-taking.
Gasoline futures were stuck with hefty losses for the day, with traders attributing the weakness to the unwinding of crack spreads, which had surged recently.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude for April delivery ended open outcry trading near the lows for the day, down 61 cents to $57.55. It fell to $57.30 on Wednesday to mark the lowest level since Feb. 15th's nadir of $56.62.
Resistance is charted at $60 with support at $57.
"Options on April crude expire today and there (is) big open interest on calls at $58.50," said Nauman Barakat, senior vice president at Macquarie Futures USA in New York.
In London, ICE April Brent crude was down ahead of contract expiration at the session's end.
NYMEX April RBOB gasoline was down about 4 1/2 cents, trading $1.88 to $1.9285. It peaked at $1.955 Tuesday which marked the loftiest level in six months, amid a clutch of refinery glitches.
Resistance is slated at $1.95 with support at $1.8646.
"Gasoline is down today as there have been some unwinding of crack spreads. The New York harbor spot market prompt has softened this week and this is contributing to the (futures) fall," said Jim Ritterbusch, president and analyst at Ritterbusch & Associates in Galena, Illinois.
NYMEX April heating oil was 2 cents lower, moving $1.6860 to $1.7247. Resistance lies at $1.73 with support at $1.673.
OPEC ministers agreed at a meeting on Thursday to keep existing oil supply limits in place amid concern that growth in the economy and in oil demand may slow. Another meeting may be called in June to review the situation, a delegate said, three months ahead of the next scheduled meeting in September.
The 10 OPEC nations subject to curbs have an output target of 25.8 million barrels per day. OPEC's 12 members -- Iraq and new member Angola are exempt from limits -- pump more than 30 million bpd or over a third of the world's oil.
Ministers had called earlier on the need to comply fully with existing supply constraints. At its previous two meetings OPEC agreed to cut a total 1.7 million barrels per day, roughly 6%, of output.
From Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday dismissed any new U.N. sanctions resolution as "a torn piece of paper" that would not stop Tehran's nuclear work, the
official IRNA news agency reported.
U.S. stocks rose slightly amid enthusiasm over a bid by IntercontinentlalExchange to buy the Chicago Board of Trade. But news of high gains in wholesale inflation dimmed hopes of an interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve.
The stock market rebounded on Wednesday as some analysts said subprime mortgage lending problems may have been overblown. Energy markets worry that any expansion of equities losses could hurt the economy and curb energy demand.
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical branch of the Department of Energy, on Wednesday showed that for the week to March 9, crude stocks rose 1.1 million barrels, gasoline supplies fell 2.5 million barrels and distillates inventories, which include heating oil and diesel, dropped 2.8 million barrels.
Refinery runs fell 0.2 percentage point to 85.6% of capacity, with some plants encountering mechanical hitches or delays in returning from seasonal maintenance.
The EIA on Thursday said domestic natural gas storage levels fell 115 billion cubic feet, exactly the volume traders and analysts polled by Reuters had forecast.