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Crude Oil Off Highs as World Bank Warns of Higher Inflation

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By Geoffrey Smith

Investing.com -- Crude oil prices fell from their recent highs on Thursday, amid signs that countries around the world are getting to grips with the shortages that have sent alternative fuel prices skyrocketing in recent weeks.

By 10:45 AM ET (1445 GMT), U.S. crude futures were down 1.5% at $82.16 a barrel, while Brent futures, the global benchmark, were down 1.5% at $84.52 a barrel.

The market for liquids remains tight, however, especially in the U.S., where strong gasoline demand drove a sharp decline in fuel inventories last week. Gasoline stocks fell by 5.4 million barrels last week, according to government data, and RBOB gasoline futures remain close to seven-year highs despite falling 1.5% to $2.46 a gallon on Thursday.

Data from GasBuddy showed that U.S. demand on Wednesday was up 3.6% over the four-week average and up 2.1% from the previous week, according to analyst Patrick de Haan.

Strong global demand is expected to keep energy prices at least at their current highs for some months to come yet, according to the World Bank's latest Commodity Markets Outlook, published earlier on Thursday.

The bank said it expected prices to start declining only in the second half of next year as supply constraints ease. Ayhan Kose, the bank's chief economist, added that this year's surge "poses significant near-term risks to global inflation and, if sustained, could also weigh on growth in energy-importing countries."

In the near term, however, there were signs of consolidation. Chinese coal futures fell by 8% for a second straight day after the National Development and Reform Commission said it will “study specific measures" to push down local prices for coal, which have surged as the country's factories struggle to meet buoyant demand from the rest of the world.

Fears of demand destruction have grown as factories in Europe and elsewhere have shut down to surging costs for natural gas and other energy. Most of the region's fertilizer industry is currently offline.

"All forms of energy are being pulled hard at this moment in time," BP (NYSE:BP) chief executive Bernard Looney was quoted as saying at an energy conference in India. "The real question is not about how it looks today because in general things are being supplied today. The question is what would it look like as we head into the winter months particularly in the north.''

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