Oil prices set a new record Tuesday, approaching $47 a barrel, as concerns about Iraqi and Russian output dominated markets that had been calmed a day earlier by the results of a vote in Venezuela.
Light crude for September delivery climbed 70 cents to a new settlement high of $46.75 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On an inflation-adjusted basis, though, oil is still about $10, or 18 percent, cheaper than it was just prior to the first Gulf War.
The travails of Russian oil-giant Yukos took a turn for the worse Tuesday after a Russian court rejected the company’s attempt to suspend government efforts to collect $3.4 billion in back taxes. Yukos pumps about 1.7 million barrels a day and its legal troubles have raised concerns that productivity could suffer and the company could be forced into bankruptcy.
In Iraq on Tuesday fighting between U.S. troops and Shiite militants intensified, adding to the oil market’s jitters. Before the latest round of violence in Najaf, Iraq had been exporting roughly 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, although volumes have fallen off in the past week.
“It’s just more of the same,” said Mike Fitzpatrick, a trader at Fimat USA in New York.
Fitzpatrick said some traders were also responding to economic data released by the government on Tuesday that showed a rise in housing construction and output at the nation’s factories, suggesting that energy consumption would remain strong.
With little spare output capacity around the globe, analysts worry that oil producers would have a difficult time making up for shortfalls at a time of robust demand.
Saudi Arabia said last week it could immediately pump an additional 1.3 million barrels per day, but the comments didn’t soothe markets. Experts said the well-intentioned pledge only highlighted the country’s limitations.
Prices had fallen on Monday after the president of Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, survived a recall referendum.
If the opposition had won, analysts worried there might have been a major overhaul of the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., and that production would have suffered, at least in the short-term.
In London, September Brent crude futures finished the day at $42.99, or 30 cents higher on the International Petroleum Exchange.