Commodity Corner: Oil Settles Lower Monday

At one point Monday crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange was only four cents shy of the $100 mark, but the April contract ultimately fell below Friday's settlement price.

April crude settled at $96.97 a barrel, a 91-cent decline from the previous trading day. Recent overtures by Saudi Arabia to compensate for the sharp decline in Libyan oil production have calmed investors' fears about the state of the market. Meanwhile, Muammar Qaddafi continued his brutal counterattack against rebel forces that recently seized control of major oil resources in the eastern half of Libya.

Although various Western countries have resorted to asset freezes and other measures in their attempt to weaken Qaddafi, how long the Libyan ruler and his loyalists can sustain their assault is unclear. That uncertainty, coupled with the tenuous state of relations between national governments and the governed throughout the Mideast and North Africa, could usher in more oil price spikes that even Saudi assurances may not overcome.

Oil peaked at $99.96 and bottomed out at $96.71 Monday.

Natural gas for April delivery, buoyed by a colder weather forecast for much of the U.S., gained 3.5 cents to settle at $4.04 Monday. Forecast models for early March project below-normal temperatures throughout the east and west coasts and the Upper Midwest.

The natural gas futures price fluctuated from $3.95 to $4.10.

March gasoline fell by a penny to end the day at $2.73 a gallon. It traded within a range from $2.70 to $2.77.