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Increase in refined fuels keeps the price of crude oil below US$103

The price of crude oil stayed flat Wednesday as falling stockpiles of crude were offset by rising supplies of refined fuels.

Benchmark U.S. oil for July fell 2 cents to close at US$102.64 a barrel in New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 42 cents to close at US$108.40 a barrel in London.

The Energy Department reported Wednesday that U.S. crude supplies fell by 3.4 million barrels last week as refiners increased activity and imports fell. Analysts had expected a decline of 2 million barrels, according to Platts, the energy information division of McGraw Hill.

Lower-than-expected crude supplies would normally push prices higher, but supplies of refined fuels — especially diesel — rose, and overall demand appeared weak. That pushed down prices for fuels — and crude, on expectations that refiners would not need to increase crude purchases in future weeks to make more fuel.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.4 cents to close at US$2.935 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1.1 cents to close at US$4.64 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 1.8 cents to close at US$2.848 a gallon.

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