Crude tops $73 a barrel, gasoline at 9-month high

Crude oil futures extended gains Thursday, topping $73 a barrel for the first time in two weeks, as gasoline rallied to highs not seen since the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. "Gasoline led the way as it should this time of year," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago. "Here we are, ahead of the strongest season for demand, and we have problems with refineries and indications that demand is rising despite high prices." The August crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled up $1.33 to $73.52 a barrel after an early high of $73.55/bbl. The gains followed climbing gasoline prices, with the July contract jumping to settle near the day's high of $2.30. July gasoline settled 8.89 cents higher at $2.2948 a gallon. This is the highest level since Sept. 29, when futures peaked at $2.37 in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, which crippled several key refineries along the Gulf Coast.