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Prices of oil back above US$98 while jitters about China's economy deepen

AP--The price of oil rose above US$98 per barrel on Thursday after plunging the day before on concern China's economic slowdown is deepening.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 11 cents to US$98.19 per barrel at 0830 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. A day earlier, the contract fell US$2.04 to close at US$97.99, its first close below US$100 in a month.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was down 2 cents to US$107.33 on the ICE exchange in London.

A decline in Chinese exports in February has fueled worries the world's second-largest economy is weakening further. Growth in factory output, investment and retail sales, reported Thursday, was unusually weak.

Oil prices had been falling after spiking last week on fears Russia's military incursion into the Crimean Peninsula might lead to U.S. and European sanctions on one of the world's largest energy suppliers.

Providing some support to prices, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for around a third of the world's oil production, raised slightly its forecast for global crude demand in 2014.

In its monthly oil market report released Wednesday, OPEC estimated the world will consume 91.1 million barrels a day this year, 1.14 million barrels more than in 2013 and 50,000 barrels above the group's previous forecast released in February.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline shed 0.3 cent to US$2.952 a gallon.

— Heating oil declined 0.5 cent to US$2.921 a gallon.

— Natural gas lost 2.7 cents to US$4.463 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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