After Hurricane Wilma worries eased,…

SINGAPORE – Oil futures retreated early Wednesday as Hurricane Wilma’s threat to oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico appeared to fade, and ahead of a weekly U.S. petroleum report that was expected to show a build in crude stocks.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery slipped 49 cents to $ 62.71 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $ 1.16 to settle at $ 63.20 a barrel Tuesday in floor trading.

Heating oil fell 1.54 cents to $ 1.9188 a gallon while gasoline slipped 1.72 cents to $ 1.7180 a gallon. Natural gas lost 0.15 cent to $ 13.270 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Analysts attributed Wednesday’s losses to profit-taking following a run-up in prices earlier in the week driven by concerns that Hurricane Wilma was headed for the same Gulf of Mexico oil facilities still recovering from damage inflicted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Benchmark Nymex crude had jumped $ 1.73 to $ 64.36 a barrel on Monday.

By Tuesday, forecasters predicted the Category 2 hurricane would make a sharp turn from the Caribbean Sea and bear down on Florida over the weekend, steering clear of U.S. oil infrastructure concentrated in coastal Texas and Louisiana.

But prices were still finding support over concerns about the slow pace of U.S. oil and gas facilities’ recovery following the hurricanes that struck in August and September, and whether supplies will be adequate going into the Northern Hemisphere winter, when demand for heating oil peaks.

Traders will be closely watching the release later Wednesday of the weekly U.S petroleum supply snapshot, expected to show an increase in crude stocks last week. A Dow Jones Newswires survey of analysts’ forecasts found that crude inventories were expected to rise by 1.51 million barrels.

Stocks of distillate fuels – which includes heating oil, jet fuel, diesel fuel and kerosene – were expected to fall, while gasoline was likely to post its third straight decline.

‘After Hurricane Wilma worries eased, traders are now awaiting weekly US oil stocks data to discern near-term price direction,’ said Ken Hasegawa of Tokyo-based brokerage Himawari CX.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Pacific Rim energy ministers and OPEC officials discussed soaring fuel prices along with ways to enhance dialogue between oil-producing and oil-consuming nations to increase efficiency and avoid harming economic growth.

Energy chiefs from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which includes oil-producing nations Canada, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and the United States – plus resource-poor economies like Japan and South Korea – were holding their first-ever meeting with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Gyeongju, South Korea.

Adnan Shihab-Eldin, OPEC’s acting secretary-general, told the 7th APEC Energy Ministers’ Meeting that the global economy has grown less dependent on oil and shown ‘remarkable resilience’ to its rising prices.

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