NEW YORK — Oil prices settled sharply lower for the second time in a row Wednesday, leaving crude more than $10 cheaper in just two days of frenzied trading and prompting speculation that the hard-charging market might be running out of steam.
Light, sweet crude for August delivery fell $4.14 to settle at $134.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier sinking as low as $132. The drop follows a $6.44 sell-off Tuesday, the biggest since the Gulf War.
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The two-day slide of $10.58 a barrel marks a dramatic turnaround in crude prices, which as recently as Friday traded at record highs above $147 a barrel. But even with this week's sell-off, prices remain about 80 percent above levels a year ago and up about 40 percent from the start of the year.
Analysts are unsure whether the drop represents a long-term shift or simply a brief correction to crude's monthslong bull run. But the decline is prompting market veterans to ask how much support remains for such high prices.
”It's a sign that maybe the bull market is losing strength,“ said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc.
Sharply increased crude and gasoline supplies were the immediate cause of Wednesday's decline.
The Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude oil supplies rose by 3 million barrels, or 1 percent, last week. Gasoline supplies also leapt unexpectedly.
Industry observers cautioned that prices could still bounce back.
”I do expect this bubble to burst,“ analyst and trader Stephen Schork said.