NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude oil futures prices settled above $81 a barrel Wednesday for the first time in a year, propelled by weakness in the dollar and tightening U.S. inventories.

Light, sweet crude oil futures for December delivery settled up 2.8%, or $2.25 a barrel, at $81.37 a barrel after hitting an intraday high of $82 a barrel. That's the highest settlement price since Oct. 9, 2008. December Brent crude oil on the ICE settled up 3.2%, or $2.45, at $79.69 a barrel.

Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn., said with "no big bearish surprise" in U.S. weekly oil inventory data, the market "reattached itself to the dollar and equities." Waves of fresh buying came in, traders said, as the euro climbed above $1.50, the highest level since August 2008. Investors have looked to commodities as a safe harbor when the dollar weakens, and dollar-denominated oil futures are especially attractive to foreign investors, given the currency play. Gains in equities prices also are viewed as a sign of a coming turnaround in the economy, analysts said.

"Everyone is behaving as if the economic recovery is at hand, and energy prices will benefit from that," McGillian said. He cautioned that market may have moved too far, too fast after breaking out of its $65-$75 trading range a week ago. "We've crossed through $75 and now $80, so people are starting to look at $90," he said, adding that high inventories and continued weak demand could reemerge to temper prices in coming days.

The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that U.S. gasoline inventories fell by 2.2 million barrels in the week ended Oct. 16, while market forecasts called for a drop of just 800,000 barrels. The size of the decline spurred a sharp rise in gasoline futures, and offered carryover strength to heating oil and crude futures.

But the decline in inventories came as refiners, in part responding to weak demand, kept gasoline output near the lowest level since September 2008, when hurricanes hampered Gulf Coast facilities. The slowdown in operations in the latest week allowed crude oil stocks to build 1.3 million barrels. Heating oil/diesel stocks, despite a 800,000-barrel drop, remain near their highest levels since 1983.

Rich Ilczyszyn, market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago, said he believes crude prices have now ratcheted up into a $75-$95 range for the near term. "The market may be getting comfortable with 90 bucks again," he said.

Nymex RBOB reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for November delivery settled at $2.0543 a gallon, the highest since Aug. 28. The contract rose for an eighth straight day, the longest streak since a 10-day run of gains in July. Prices have gained 28.63 cents a gallon, or 16.2%, since Oct. 9.

Heating oil futures prices for November delivery settled up 5.8 cents, or 2.8%, to $2.1053 a gallon, the highest level since Nov. 4, 2008.

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 David Bird, Dow Jones Newswires, 1-212-416-2141; david.bird@dowjones.com