Oil prices retreated Friday, led by a late sell-off in gasoline that capped a generally strong week in the energy market.
"I don't think anybody was in the mood to make any brave new trades," said Stephanie Rzasa, an oil broker at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.Volume was extremely light, reflecting a lack of market-moving news.
Unleaded gasoline for delivery in April settled at 71.18 cents per gallon, down 1.89 cents for the day but still up 1.39 cents for the week at the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Gasoline has shown strength in recent weeks, reflecting dwindling U.S. supplies and tight refinery capacity as the summer driving season approaches. After some big gains earlier this week, traders dumped gasoline contracts late Friday to lock in profits.
Nothing in particular sparked the sell-off, but technical influences of supply and demand played a role, traders said.
"People are looking at the technicals lately, because they don't have the added stimulus of war news or OPEC news," Rzasa said. "The higher up you go, the more you've got to fall, if you fall."
Crude oil showed more modest losses for the day, but it also finished higher for the week.
Light sweet crude oil for delivery in May settled at $20.10 per barrel, down 39 cents. For the week, crude for next-month delivery was up 34 cents per barrel.
Crude has been given a lift lately by announcements that OPEC would cut production and the Soviet Union will halve exports, at a time when many U.S. oil companies may want to start replenishing stockpiles depleted during the Persian Gulf crisis.
"We're flirting and seem to be continuing to come back to that $20 area for crude oil," said Thomas P. Blakeslee, an energy analyst with Pegasus Econometric Group Inc., in Hoboken, N.J. "It's still a market lacking direction as the fundamentals give mixed feelings about where the price of oil should be."