Oil above $108 on supplies drop, hot money influx

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BANGKOK (AP) — Oil added to gains above $108 a barrel Monday, underpinned by three weeks of declining U.S. stockpiles and a rush of speculative money into the crude futures market.

Benchmark crude for September delivery was up 34 cents to $108.21 a barrel at early afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The now expired August contract closed up 1 cent at $108.05 on Friday after trading as high as $109.32 earlier in the day.

American motorists, meanwhile, are bracing for further increases in gas pump prices this summer after average national prices rose 12 cents in the past week alone.

Sharp falls in U.S. inventories of crude oil and gasoline have contributed to a 15 percent jump in the Nymex benchmark, also known as West Texas Intermediate crude, since June 21. Some analysts say speculators are also pushing the price higher.

Energy analysts at The Schork Group Inc. said open interest, which is the number of open futures contracts, is at record levels as is the participation of Wall Street hedge funds and investors such as commodity pool operators. They said in a report that Wall Street now owns six times as many barrels of oil in the WTI futures market as there are sitting at the Nymex oil delivery terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma.

Benchmark oil's jump has been so sharp that is has closed most of its discount to Brent crude that is traded on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Brent was up 39 cents to $108.38 a barrel.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline added 1.5 cent to $3.073 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 0.9 cent to $3.10 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 4.6 cents to $3.743 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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