NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude futures ended slightly higher Monday, though the oil market looked to have turned a corner after three weeks of steady declines.

Market participants noted that oil prices held their ground despite a sharply stronger dollar and a decline in U.S. equities, two factors that have regularly caused precipitous declines in crude futures this month.

"Considering how strong the dollar was today, and crude didn't go down, it could be a sign that perhaps we put in a temporary bottom here," said Addison Armstrong, an analyst with Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn.

Light, sweet crude for July delivery settled 17 cents, or 0.2%, higher at $70.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange was recently down 41 cents, or 0.6%, at $71.27 a barrel.

Futures haven't made up much ground after tumbling roughly $20 a barrel since May 3, largely over concerns that Greece's debt crisis would begin to drag down European, or even global, economic growth.

On Monday, the euro weakened to $1.2399, from $1.2586 after Spain's central bank seized CajaSur, a struggling savings bank. Like Greece, Spain is grappling with a high deficit that has shaken investor confidence. CajaSur's failure stoked enough new fear about Europe's prospects to send the Dow Jones Industrial Average 0.7% lower to 10125.80 recently.

A stronger dollar makes oil more expensive to purchase using other currencies, and can indicate that investors are avoiding riskier assets, including commodities.

But crude futures defied the cues from equities and currencies, receiving a key boost from the gasoline market, which will enter its peak demand season with the coming three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.

"Gasoline strength this week should provide some overall strength to markets," said Tony Rosado, a broker with GA Global Markets in New York.

Strong summer gasoline demand is seen as crucial if U.S. oil and fuel inventories are going to be brought back to average levels this year. Total crude and refined product inventories reached their highest level since November in the week ended May 14, and analysts see oil inventories rising 300,000 barrels in the next report from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday. Gasoline stocks are expected to drop 100,000 barrels, while distillate inventories, including heating oil and diesel, are seen rising 500,000 barrels, according to a Dow Jones survey. Refinery utilization is expected to drop 0.2 percentage point to 87.7% of capacity.

Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 0.96 cent, or 0.5%, higher at $1.9708 a gallon. June heating oil settled 0.26 cent, or 0.1%, higher at $1.8993 a gallon.


More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:

Nymex Light Crude Oil Close
Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close
Nymex Heating Oil Close
ICE Brent Crude Oil Close
ICE Gas Oil Close


-By Brian Baskin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2453; brian.baskin@dowjones.com