Crude oil for March delivery fell 16 cents Friday to settle at $86.20 a barrel, but ongoing tensions in the Middle East and North Africa pushed the April futures contract upward.
Because the March contract is expiring, investors gravitated toward the April contract during Friday's trading. The latter contract surged to $90.96 before ending the day at $89.71, marking an 87-cent gain from Thursday.
The rise in the April contract stems largely from escalating tensions throughout the MENA region, with anti-government marchers protesting entrenched regimes from Morocco to Iran. Also spurring concerns among traders was the transitional Egyptian government's decision to allow two Iranian warships to transit the Suez Canal. The passage, which Iran maintains is necessary for an anti-piracy training mission but Israel has called a "provocation," will represent the first time Iranian military vessels have transited the canal since 1979.
The March oil contract fluctuated from $85.65 to $87.88 Friday while the price floor for the April contract was $88.43.
Although the heating-dependent Northeast and Midwest regions were enjoying springlike conditions Friday, forecasters caution that below-normal temperatures should continue later in the month. As a result, March natural gas gained a penny Friday to settle at $3.88 per thousand cubic feet.
Natural gas traded within a range from $3.84 to $3.90.
Gasoline for March delivery rose by two cents to end the day at $2.55 a gallon. It peaked at $2.57 and bottomed out at $2.50.
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