Commodity Corner: Oil Hits 2½-year High

Crude oil for April delivery hit a 30-month high of $103.41 a barrel Thursday before easing back into the double digits.

Oil ended the day at $97.28, an 82-cent decrease from Wednesday's settlement price. The worsening situation in Libya pressured oil upward, but leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia offered the market assurances that it would cover any supply shortfall resulting from sharply lower production from the North African country.

Platts pointed out that determining just how dramatically Libya's production has fallen in recent days has been "impossible." According to Platts, estimates from analysts have ranged from 500,000 to 1 million barrels per day. However, it added that shut-in production has been heading upward.

Thursday's price floor for oil was $97.10.

March natural gas slipped 11 cents Thursday to settle at $3.79 per thousand cubic feet on a below-normal decrease in inventories as well as a milder weather forecast. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration announced Thursday that U.S. gas inventories declined by 81 billion cubic feet last week. EIA noted the draw was considerably lower than the five-year average draw for the week of 148 Bcf and last year's draw of 174 Bcf.

Natural gas traded within a range from $3.775 to $3.91 Thursday.

Front-month gasoline edged up by a penny Thursday, settling at $2.72 a gallon. Gasoline peaked at $2.86 and bottomed out at $2.74 during the day's trading.