Oil Near $97 As Traders Eye Greek Debt Talks

Published February 6, 2012 8:36AM (EST)

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices fell to near $97 a barrel Monday in Asia amid investor concerns about Greek debt talks.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was down 53 cents at $97.31 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.48 to settle at $97.84 on Friday.

Brent crude was down 20 cents at $114.41 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

Traders are wary that Greece may not be able to reach a deal with bondholders for an orderly debt default. Greek political leaders are scheduled to speak later Monday about economic austerity measures brokered by European leaders and the International Monetary Fund.

Investors were cheered by evidence that the U.S. economy may grow this year more than previously expected. The Labor Department said Friday that companies hired 243,000 employees in January, the strongest job growth in nine months. The increase in hiring pushed the unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.2 percent Friday and Asian stock markets gained Monday.

Analysts remain concerned that crude demand in developed countries, particularly those in Europe, will be weak this year.

"Demand continues to be concentrated in the emerging markets," J.P. Morgan said in a report. "In the United States, we see structural demand contractions in gasoline as fuel efficiency measures continue to offset gains in population growth and personal income."

Investors will be closely watching a slew of corporate earnings reports this week for clues about the strength of the U.S. and global economies. Walt Disney, Coca-Cola, and Cisco Systems are scheduled to announce fourth quarter results this week.

In other energy trading, heating oil was down 0.3 cent at $3.11 per gallon and gasoline futures fell 0.5 cent to $2.91 per gallon. Natural gas slid 4.8 cents to $2.45 per 1,000 cubic feet.

By Salon Staff

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