Going Up

LONDON, July 21, 2006 (AFP) – Oil prices firmed on Friday but remained below recent record peaks as traders paused for breath after a week of volatile trading, dealers said.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in September, added 10 cents to 74.37 dollars per barrel in electronic deals before the official opening of the US market.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for September delivery won 20 cents to 73.92 dollars per barrel in electronic trading.

“Brent and US crude were firmer (on Friday) as investors squared their positions before the weekend,” said Sucden analyst Michael Davies.

“The market is being supported by production problems at two US refineries and continuing violence in the Middle East, after Israel resumed heavy bombardment of Hizbollah strongholds in Lebanon,” he added.

North American refiner Valero Energy Corp. had announced Thursday that it had shut a gasoline-making unit at its St. Charles, Louisiana, refinery for repairs.

US energy giant ConocoPhillips has, meanwhile, shut its big Wood River refinery in Roxana, Illinois, because of a power outage caused by severe storms.

Since striking recent reco