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Originally published Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 4:46 AM

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Oil rises in Asia after US crude stockpiles fall

Oil prices headed toward $80 a barrel Thursday in Asia, the final day of trading for 2009, after U.S. crude stockpiles fell for the fourth week in a row.

The Associated Press

BANGKOK —

Oil prices headed toward $80 a barrel Thursday in Asia, the final day of trading for 2009, after U.S. crude stockpiles fell for the fourth week in a row.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 44 cents at $79.72 a barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 41 cents to settle at $79.28 on Wednesday.

The Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude supplies shrank by 1.5 million barrels last week, less than the expected drop of 2.2 million barrels. Gasoline supplies also fell.

The drop in inventories isn't necessarily a sign of fundamental improvement in demand for crude.

It is typical to see crude draws at this time of year because many companies empty out storage facilities for tax purposes. While supplies have fallen nearly 14 million barrels over the past four weeks, they remain relatively high compared with past years.

Oil prices have more than doubled from their crisis lows of a year ago, and most analysts are forecasting crude will average between $75 and $85 in 2010.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil rose 1.1 cent to $2.12 a gallon and gasoline was virtually unchanged at $2.04 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery rose 51 cents to $78.54 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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AP Energy Writer Chris Kahn contributed to this story.

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