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Crude oil prices slightly higher on US data

AP--Oil prices edged slightly higher on Friday but remained under US$100 a barrel as traders weighed whether an apparent pickup in the U.S. economy could spur enough demand to offset a slowdown in China and tension in the Ukraine.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 2 cents to US$98.22 a barrel at 0920 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 21 cents to close at US$98.20 on Thursday.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 5 cents to US$106.97 on the ICE exchange in London.

China is one of the top consumers of energy, so an economic slowdown there could dial back demand for oil. At the same time, Russia is one of the top producers of oil worldwide, meaning that any Western sanctions against Moscow for its military incursion into the Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula could affect global supplies.

Still, recent good news about the U.S. economy helped underpin prices on Friday. American retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline shed 0.2 cent to US$2.906 a gallon.

— Heating oil was up 0.7 cent to US$2.911 a gallon.

— Natural gas lost 3.1 cents to US$4.352 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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