Oil Prices Swing as Dollar Regains Strength

( FOX BUSINESS )- The oil futures market fluctuated Monday, searching for direction without much in the way of solid news to drive prices higher or lower.

Retail gas prices, meanwhile, fell further from recent records, while diesel prices dipped slightly.

Oil futures traded in a narrow range as a tug of war took place between speculators who have sold as the dollar gained strength, and investors who bought on a view that the economy -- and demand for oil and gasoline -- may not be as weak as initially thought.

Many investors view commodities such as oil as a hedge against inflation and a falling dollar. Also, a weaker dollar makes oil less expensive to overseas investors. Many analysts believe the greenback's decline was the primary reason oil surged to a record near $112 a barrel earlier last week. But the effect tends to reverse when the dollar strengthens, as it did Monday.

Other investors remain more focused on the oil market's underlying supply and demand fundamentals. These investors bought Monday, following the stock market higher on reports that JPMorgan Chase & Co.may boost its offer for Bear Stearns Cos.to $10 a share from $2, and a report that existing home sales rose unexpectedly last month. Energy investors often view stocks as a proxy of the economy's health.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose 8 cents to $101.92 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but trading was indecisive and prices alternated between gains and losses.

Last week, oil prices dipped in part on concerns that Bear Stearns' near-collapse was a sign of significant economic problems. But there are still investors willing to bet that the strong global economy will boost demand for oil, and will push prices higher. Their views were reinforced Monday when China said its crude imports jumped 18% last month.

"There's still sort of a persistent bullish undertone to this market," said Brad Samples, an analyst with Summit Energy Services Inc., in Louisville, Ky. "The market right now doesn't believe that a slowdown in the U.S. is enough," to end oil's price rally.

Trading volumes were lower than normal Monday due to a holiday in Europe, which means price moves could be exaggerated, analysts said

At the pump, meanwhile, gas prices slipped 0.4 cent overnight to a national average of $3.26 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. And, for a change, diesel prices also slipped 0.7 cent from their most recent record to a national average of $4.029 a gallon.

Gasoline and diesel prices followed oil's surge to a series of records in recent weeks. But that march higher has halted, at least temporarily, as oil's rally has stalled.

Falling oil, gasoline and diesel prices would be a welcome relief for consumers who are also paying higher prices for food and feeling the pinch of falling home values. Diesel, used to transport the vast majority of the nation's goods, is a large part of the reason food prices are rising .

Other energy futures were mixed Monday. April gasoline futures rose 5.39 cents to $2.659 a gallon on the Nymex , and April heating oil futures rose 2.28 cents to $3 a gallon.

April natural gas futures rose 34 cents to $9.405 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, May Brent crude rose 50 cents to $100.88 barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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