Oil Futures End Mixed

NEW YORK (DTN) -- Spot-month oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled mixed Monday afternoon with West Texas Intermediate crude slightly lower amid position-squaring ahead of Tuesday's expiration of the January contract while RBOB and ULSD were higher.

The afternoon downturn for WTI also coincided with news that a major oil workers union in Nigeria suspended a nationwide strike on Monday, just hours after it began.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, which represents managers in the upstream oil industry, started their labor action early today after talks with the government ended in deadlock on Sunday.

This news had initially sparked concerns over exports from Africa's largest crude oil producing nation. However, this afternoon the union suspended the strike until January when they are scheduled to resume talks with the government.

"There was profit-taking, pushing WTI prices lower [partly] because the Nigerian strike has been put off, and partly due to expiration," said analyst Phil Flynn at Price Futures.

NYMEX RBOB and ULSD futures tracked Brent crude futures higher on the International Exchange, boosted by the continuing outage of a key North Sea crude pipeline. The 445,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Forties pipeline has been shut since Dec. 11 after a crack was found in Aberdeen, Scotland, and operator Ineos said it could be many weeks before the line is back in service.

In the United States, oil service firm Baker Hughes on Friday reported that the number of U.S. rigs actively drilling for oil declined by four last week to 747.

The rig count report suggests a slowdown in drilling activity during the week-ended Dec. 15, although this came days after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U. S. crude production rose 73,000 bpd to a 9.78 million barrel (bbl) fresh 46-year high last week.

Meanwhile, a survey of analysts Monday showed the market estimate U.S. crude oil stocks to have been drawn down again during the week-ended Dec. 15 by 5.25 million bbl, but they were mixed on refined products.

At settlement, NYMEX January WTI crude oil futures were 14 cents lower at $57.16 bbl, with February contract down 11 cents at $57.22 bbl. ICE February Brent gained 18 cents to $63.41 bbl.

NYMEX January ULSD futures rose 2.17 cents to $1.9252 gallon settlement while January RBOB futures climbed 1.77 cents to $1.6725 gallon.

George Orwel can be reached at george.orwel@dtn.com