Crude oil inches above $100 a barrel as Ukraine tensions offset China economy slowdown data

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By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press

The price of oil was slightly higher Monday, inching above $100 a barrel, as investors weighed escalating tensions in Ukraine against a fourth month of contraction in China's manufacturing sector.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for June delivery was up 42 cents to $100.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday, the Nymex contract rose 34 cents to settle at $99.76.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international varieties of oil, was down 11 cents to $108.48 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Violence flared in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Monday, as 4 officers were killed and 30 wounded in gunbattles with pro-Russia militants, according to the Interior Ministry.

Concerns are mounting that if the conflict spirals further it could force the U.S. and Europe to strengthen sanctions against Russia, which Ukraine accuses of fomenting unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. Russia is a major supplier of natural gas and oil to Europe.

Oil prices were kept in check by new data pointing to a continuing slowdown in China, the world's second-largest economy, and the possibility of lower energy demand.

China's factory activity contracted again last month, according to HSBC's purchasing manager index, and the pace of the decline was more severe than a preliminary version of the report indicated.

"Bullish and bearish news are pretty much balanced at present, which suggests that sideways trading will continue," said a report from analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.19 cents to $2.9326 a gallon.

— Heating oil lost 0.51 cent to $2.9172 a gallon

— Natural gas added 2.5 cents to $4.699 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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