Oil Finishes Up Despite Weaker Gasoline Prices

U.S. crude oil futures ended a choppy session only slightly higher on Monday, as slumping RBOB gasoline futures helped pare crude oil's early strength on disrupted African output and concern about further interruptions.

RBOB futures were hit by profit taking, a returning Canadian refinery and expectations that this week's data will show supplies to be up and refinery capacity returning.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, June crude rose 9 cents, or 0.14% to settle at $62.46 a barrel , trading from $62.14 to $63.07.

In London, June Brent crude settled unchanged at $66.83 a barrel , after seesawing between $66.51 to $67.51.

The Brent June contract expires on Wednesday. News that some Nigerian production is expected to return soon helped take Brent crude off early highs.

NYMEX June RBOB gasoline fell 5.09 cents or 2.16% to settle at $2.3012 a gallon , slipping after a stronger start, trading from $2.29 to $2.3744.

"RBOB has had a huge move up recently, so this is just one of those three- or four-cent corrections," said Jim Ritterbusch, president at Ritterbusch and Associates. He added that crack spread selling was causing the products weakness.

The RBOB crack spread narrowed to $34.19, after ending at $36.42 on Friday.

"It's mostly profit taking, an expectation we may see some more (supply) relief in the data Wednesday and the Nanticoke restart," said John Kilduff, senior vice president at Man Financial. "Also, all of the attention the high (retail) prices are getting tends to have a bearish effect."

NYMEX June heating oil fell 1.55 cents or 0.82% to settle at $1.8668 a gallon , trading $1.8597 to $1.9002.

Imperial Oil said on Monday its Nanticoke refinery in Ontario was producing gasoline and other products after a power outage late last week.

With U.S. retail gasoline prices nearing record levels, U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday directed his cabinet to complete action by the end of 2008 on his plan to cut U.S. gasoline use by 20% by 2017.

Militant attacks and community protests in Nigeria have cut about 25% of its production capacity, but Chevron said Monday it expected full output from its 42,000 barrels-a-day Abiteye oil field in Nigeria in the next few days. The field was shut down last week.

Congo Republic's Nkossa offshore field, operated by French company Total, will be back up within three weeks after a Thursday fire halted 60,000-bp of output, the Congo's oil ministry said on Friday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday threatened "severe" retaliation if the United States attacked his country, which is in a dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

The United States accuses Iran of intending to produce nuclear weapons and has sought tougher U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

Crude futures on Friday received support from an International Energy Agency report saying OPEC must raise its oil output before the summer to prevent a sharp decline in consumer nations' crude oil inventories.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration voiced its view that OPEC needs to boost supply, citing the loss of Nigerian output and said the U.S. average retail gasoline price should hit a record high this week.

Wednesday morning will have another snapshot of U.S. inventories. Analysts polled by Reuters on Monday expect the data to show gasoline stocks up 1.0 million barrels, distillate supplies up 1.3 million barrels and crude supply up 200,000 barrels.

Refinery capacity use was expected to have increased 0.8 percentage point last week, helping products supplies build.