By Chuck Marvin (TheStreet.com)
Crude oil and refined products received a boost from bullish petroleum inventory figures Wednesday, while natural gas continued to trend lower in New York. October light sweet crude gained $1.76 to $73.49 a barrel, and reformulated gasoline rose 9 cents to $2.10 a gallon. Heating oil climbed 5 cents to $2.04 a gallon. Near-term natural gas lost 16 cents, finishing at $5.43 per million British thermal units. The Energy Information Administration's oil inventory report for the week ended Aug. 24 was more supportive of prices than analysts were expecting. Crude oil stores fell by 3.5 million barrels, whereas analysts had forecast a 600,000-barrel decline. Gasoline stores shrank by 3.7 million barrels, 1 million more than had been expected. Distillates increased by 889,000 barrels, which was slightly higher than what surveys had projected. Refinery utilization rates fell to 90.3% from 91.6% during the week. "The drop in crude and gasoline inventories was a real surprise," says Alan Mandel, analyst at Alan M. Trading. "Gasoline inventories are now at their lowest in three years." Crude will likely stay in an intermediate-term trading range between $69 and $76 a barrel, while natural gas prices will probably stay low as long as the weather remains abnormally temperate, according to Mandel. Meanwhile, energy stocks were broadly higher, and the CBOE Oil Index climbed 3% to 732.48.