Oil prices slipped below on Friday, retracing some of the week's sharp gains made on fears of tight summer gasoline supplies.
Prices fell midweek after a U.S. government report revealed a fifth weekly rise in crude stocks, now at seven-year highs as a warm winter allowed the world's biggest energy consumer to rebuild supplies after 2005's devastating hurricane season.
''I believe, in these somewhat tense and uncertain times, it is only logical for consuming countries to build stocks,'' Naimi told a news conference, referring to concerns about the security of supplies in some OPEC producers such as Nigeria and Iran.
''In normal situations very high stocks would have a depressing effect on prices, but these are not normal times.'' ''...today we see prices at a level where everyone benefits and the consumer is not harmed,'' he said. ''I am not aware that the global economy is being hurt.'' Asked if OPEC would meet before a planned June 1 gathering, Naimi said: ''I am not aware there is one (meeting before June).'' To ease concerns over the reliability of Iran's and Nigeria's oil supplies, OPEC has kept pumping at full throttle despite predictions for lower demand in the spring.
On Friday, the cartel cut its forecast for 2006 global oil demand growth by 110,000 barrels per day due to slower consumption in the United States and Asia.
U.S. President George W. Bush last month called for slashing U.S. oil imports from the Middle East by more than 75 percent by 2025, a goal the government's top energy forecasting agency has suggested will be hard to meet.
''The important thing is that today the world is greatly dependent on oil and there is no effective cheap safe and flexible alternative to it,'' Naimi said.
REUTERS SY BS2055