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Published: Tuesday, 3/20/2012

Oil falls from close to 10-month high to near $107


LONDON — Oil prices fell to near $107 a barrel Tuesday in Europe, slipping from close to 10-month highs ahead of new data on the U.S. economy and energy demand.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 74 cents to $107.35 a barrel at late morning European time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.03 to settle at $108.09 in New York on Monday.

Brent crude for May delivery was down $1.34 at $124.37 a barrel in London.

Crude has jumped from $96 last month and $75 in October on signs of an improving U.S. economy. The focus Tuesday will be on new statistics on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ending March 16 is expected to show a build of 2.1 million barrels in crude oil stocks, while gasoline stocks are seen falling by 1.8 million barrels, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.

Data on U.S. housing and jobless claims later this week is also likely to provide fresh clues for the oil market. A private survey of the U.S. homebuilding industry on Monday found that companies are increasingly hopeful that home sales will rise in coming months.

Tensions over Iran's nuclear program have helped to keep high prices at elevated levels. A military attack by Israel or the U.S. against Iran's nuclear facilities would likely trigger a crude price spike while renewed diplomatic negotiations would probably cause prices to drop.

"The market is anticipating additional favorable U.S. economic news," energy trader and consultant Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. "And until concerns ease regarding Iranian risk, the market appears capable of maintaining price gains, especially if equities remain strong."

In other energy trading, heating oil was down 2.7 cents at $3.23 per gallon and gasoline futures slid 1.9 cents to $3.35 per gallon. Natural gas fell 0.7 cents to $2.34 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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