Oil prices down




SINGAPORE (AFP) – Oil prices were down in Asian trade Friday as investors digested lacklustre US stockpiles and economic data that point towards weakening demand in the world s top crude consumer.

New York s main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, eased 15 cents to $100.20 in afternoon Asian trade.

Europe s benchmark contract Brent North Sea crude for April was down eight cents at $108.44 on its first day of trading.

“Oil prices were pressured by an expected dip in demand during the refinery maintenance season and a rise in jobless claims in the US, the world s largest oil consumer,” Singapore s United Overseas Bank said in a commentary.

The US Labour Department on Thursday reported weekly first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose to 339,000 from 331,000 the previous week, slightly more than expected but in line with the longer-term trend.

Investors are also digesting data showing retail sales in the US fell 0.4 percent in January in the second straight monthly decline.

The Commerce Department said retail sales also fell 0.1 percent in December after previously estimating growth of 0.2 percent.

Also putting pressure on prices is the higher-than-expected rise in US crude inventories in the United States last week.

Data released Wednesday showed overall inventories rose by 3.3 million barrels, while stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub fell by 2.7 million barrels.

“The markets have accepted that US data will be weak and the weather gets the blame,” said Kelly Teoh, market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore, referring to the adverse winter storms in North America.



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