Oil falls toward $100 ahead of US supply data

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By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices fell toward $100 a barrel Tuesday in Asia as investors look to the latest U.S. crude supply figures for clues about demand strength.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was down 37 cents at $100.54 a barrel at midmorning Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.24 to settle at $100.91 on Monday.

Brent crude was steady at $117.93 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

Oil has hovered near $100 for several months amid signs the U.S. economy is improving. However, crude supplies have been rising, suggesting demand remains weak.

Traders will be closely watching the latest inventory data when the American Petroleum Institute reports later Tuesday and the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration announces its weekly supply data Wednesday.

Analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., predict crude inventories rose 1.9 million barrels last week.

Analysts are concerned that rising U.S. gasoline prices, which hit a five-month high last week, could undermine consumer spending and economic growth.

"These price increases come at a difficult time for the economy," energy consultant Cameron Hanover said in a report. "Jobs are just starting to come back and housing is starting to breathe its first breaths of life in years, and gasoline prices are back at it, ready to scuttle economic recovery through a pervasive tax that catches everyone."

In other energy trading, heating oil was down 0.4 cents at $3.16 per gallon and gasoline futures slid 0.2 cent to $3.00 per gallon. Natural gas gained 1.2 cents to $2.44 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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