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Oil prices kept in check by global economy fears

AP--The price of oil was little changed Tuesday, with the outlook for energy demand kept in check by weak manufacturing in China and the U.S.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 19 cents to US$96.62 a barrel at 0830 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell US$1.06 to close at US$96.43 on Monday.

Oil prices took a hit this week after surveys of purchasing managers in the world's two biggest economies indicated weakness in manufacturing last month.

A trade group in the U.S. reported that manufacturing barely expanded in January as cold weather cut shipments and forced some factories to shut down. On the weekend, a Chinese manufacturing index by a government-affiliated agency reported that activity declined to just above the level that indicates contraction.

Feeble manufacturing could indicate broader economic weakness that results in reduced demand for energy.

Brent crude, a benchmark for oil sold internationally, was up 1 cent at US$106.05 on the ICE exchange in London.

Investors are looking ahead to the end of the week, when the U.S. releases payrolls figures that will shed further light on the state of the U.S. economy.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline was flat at US$2.609 a gallon.

— Heating oil was nearly unchanged at US$3.00 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 15.4 cents to US$5.059 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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