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Oil prices fall following lackluster China data

AP--Oil prices fell Thursday as lackluster data from China overshadowed news that oil started flowing through a new pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was down 24 cents to US$96.49 a barrel at 0535 GMT in electronic trading on the U.S. Mercantile Exchange.

A preliminary manufacturing index for China fell to 49.6 in January, below the 50 level that signifies expansion and a six-month low, according to HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics. In December the index was at 50.5.

Oil rose nearly 2 percent, or US$1.76, to US$96.73 on Wednesday following the opening of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, which is expected to eventually bring 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Gulf Coast. With demand expected to rise, the price of the U.S. oil rose closer to that of more-expensive imports.

Oil last closed above US$96 a barrel on Dec. 31.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down 22 cents to US$108.05 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

Natural gas futures remained firm, up 4.8 cents at US$4.737 per 1,000 cubic feet, as temperatures in many parts of the U.S. Northeast remained in the single digits, boosting demand.

The deep chill blanketing much of the central and eastern U.S. is expected to keep demand high following a big snowstorm on Tuesday.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline edged 1 cent lower to US$2.678 per gallon.

— Heating oil was almost unchanged at US$2.978 a gallon.

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