Oil prices fall as Saudis hint at raising supplies

The price of oil fell Monday after the Saudi oil minister hinted that his country, the world's biggest oil producer, may raise supplies to put the brakes on higher oil prices.

The price of oil fell Monday after the Saudi oil minister hinted that his country, the world's biggest oil producer, may raise supplies to put the brakes on higher oil prices.

Benchmark crude for March delivery lost $1.24 to settle at $87.87 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price of oil has fallen more than 3 percent since Thursday, when it was close to $92 a barrel.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said he expected world oil demand will increase this year to between 1.5 million and 1.8 million barrels per day. That's higher than forecasts from the Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency. JP Morgan analysts point out that al-Naimi's prediction of stronger demand probably means the Saudis are willing to raise production.

"It would seem more oil is on the way, which will reduce the supply deficit and will moderate the price gain," JP Morgan said.

Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, said al-Naimi's comments imply that he thinks oil prices are too high, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would take steps to bring them down.

"I think that's the first serious comment along those lines from anybody in OPEC," Lynch said. "He seems to be saying maybe the market needs more oil."

At the gas pump, prices lingered around a national average of $3.11 for a gallon of regular, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's eight cents more than a month ago and 40 cents higher than a year ago.

In other energy trading on the Nymex, heating oil lost 3.12 cents to settle at $2.6231 a gallon. Gasoline futures lost 4.06 cents to settle at $2.4379 a gallon. Natural gas for March delivery fell 14.5 cents to settle at $4.598 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude gave up 99 cents to settle at $96.61 per barrel.

_____

AP Energy Writer Sandy Shore in Denver contributed to this report.

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