Oil falls for the day and the week, ending at $101
Oil prices fell Friday, posting their first weekly decline in a month, after a call for protests in Saudi Arabia was largely ignored and Japan's massive earthquake dimmed short-term demand expectations.
April crude futures dropped as low as $99.01 a barrel in New York, then rose to end the trading session at $101.16, down $1.54 for the day. It was the fourth straight daily decline since the price hit a 2 1/2-year high of $105.44 on Monday.
For the week oil fell $3.26, or 3.1%, after rising each of the previous three weeks -- from $84.81 on Feb. 14 -- amid escalating unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
Oil in London also declined Friday, falling $2.03 to $113.40 a barrel. The London price has eased from a high of $116.35 on March 2.
Saudi dissidents’ call for a “day of rage” on Friday drew only a relative handful of protesters, The Times’ Neela Banerjee reported from Riyadh.
Financial markets were roiled Thursday by reports that Saudi police had fired on protesters to break up a small demonstration in the eastern city of Qatif.
But the absence of protesters Friday “proved the efficacy of the Saudi government's relentlessly stern response to the call for demonstrations,” Banerjee wrote. The government has banned all protests, saying they’re illegal.
In Libya, however, fighting raged as forces loyal to strongman Moammar Kadafi continued to strike back against rebels, who appealed for Western help.
Meanwhile, oil traders said fundamental demand could weaken in the short term because of the 8.9-magnitude quake that hit Japan on Friday, which could temporarily idle a chunk of the country’s industry, including refineries.
But Japanese oil demand ultimately could increase as production lost from damaged nuclear reactors is replaced by non-nuclear power plants, Bloomberg News reported.
Oil bulls also may have been held back Friday after President Obama said the nation’s 727-million-barrel strategic oil reserve could be tapped, if necessary, to relieve price pressures.
But energy analysts say there is no shortage of oil in the world at the moment. Rather, prices have spiked over the last month because of fears -- and speculative bets -- that production halts in Libya could be repeated across the Middle East if popular revolts spread in the region.
Even as crude has declined this week, there's no break yet at the pump: California drivers paid an average of $3.937 for a gallon of regular gas Friday, up about a penny from the day before and nearly a dime from a week earlier, according to AAA.
The U.S. average hit $3.542, up 1.3 cents from Thursday and up 7 cents from a week earlier.
-- Tom Petruno and Ronald D. White
Photo: Some of the heavy Saudi police presence in the capital of Riyadh on Friday. Credit: Hassan Ammar / Associated Press