BANGKOK — The price of oil fell Wednesday after monthly home sales and manufacturing data raised concerns about the U.S. economy's growth prospects.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 13 cents to $96.55 per barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The February contract, which expired Tuesday, rose 68 cents to close at $96.24, a four-month high.
A drop in U.S. sales of previously occupied homes for December from November hurt sentiment, as did a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond showing a drop in manufacturing in the central Atlantic region.
Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said in a market commentary that the reports raised "concerns about the US manufacturing sector once again." A downturn in factory production would likely reduce demand for energy and cause prices to fall.
Ample supplies of oil and gasoline are also weighing on prices. There also remains some uncertainty about the outcome of negotiations in Washington on the U.S. debt limit. Congress is set to vote later in the day on a measure to raise the country's borrowing limit. Otherwise it could face an economically calamitous, first-ever default.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, was down 26 cents to $112.16 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
_ Natural gas rose 2.9 cents to $3.587 per 1,000 cubic feet.
_ Wholesale gasoline fell 0.3 cent to $2.844 per gallon.
_ Heating oil fell 0.3 cent to $3.053 a gallon.