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Oil below US$102 after China, Japan data

AP--The price of oil fell below US$102 on Monday after a surprise drop in China's exports and weaker economic growth in Japan suggested demand for crude could weaken.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was down US$1.18 to US$101.40 per barrel at 0810 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday, the contract rose US$1.02 to close at US$102.58 after strong U.S. employment figures for February. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was down 90 cents to US$108.11.

China's customs data showed over the weekend that exports plunged by an unexpectedly large 18 percent last month. Robust trade is crucial in helping China achieve its official economic growth target of 7.5 percent for this year. However, exports in February last year might have been overstated by exporters inflating sales figures as an excuse to evade currency controls and bring extra money into China.

Oil prices surged last week due to severe winter in the U.S. that raised demand for hitting oil and tension over Russia's military incursion into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.5 cents to US$2.949 per gallon.

— Heating oil shed 3 cents to US$2.982 per gallon.

— Natural gas was down 4.7 cents to US$4.571 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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