Oil hovers below $99 after US crude supply jump

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices hovered below $99 a barrel Wednesday in Asia as investors eyed a jump in U.S. crude inventories and signs of sluggish economic growth.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was up 15 cents at $98.63 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 30 cents to settle at $98.48 on Tuesday.

Brent crude was up 19 cents at $111.17 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

The American Petroleum Institute said late Tuesday that crude inventories rose 2.1 million barrels last week while analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., had predicted an increase of 3.0 million barrels.

Inventories of gasoline fell 222,000 barrels last week while distillates added 970,000 million barrels, the API said.

The Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration reports its weekly supply data later Wednesday.

Investors will be closely watching the latest U.S. employment data from January on Friday. The Conference Board said Tuesday that consumer confidence fell in January from December as Americans were more worried about their incomes, gas prices and business conditions.

The housing market also continues to struggle. Home prices fell in November for a third straight month in 19 of the 20 U.S. cities tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller index.

“U.S. economic releases tilted toward the bearish side, and that these figures followed last Friday’s negative GDP guidance conjured up images of some disappointing employment data,” energy consultant Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. “A difficult, choppy trading environment could be sustained well into February.”

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 0.5 cent to $3.06 per gallon and gasoline futures were up 1.3 cents to $2.90 per gallon. Natural gas fell 4.9 cents to $2.45 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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