Oil prices mixed on US, China data

Oil prices end mixed as markets digest a batch of economic data from the United States and China, the world's two biggest consumers of energy.

NEW YORK: Oil prices were mixed on Thursday as markets digested a batch of economic data from the United States and China, the world's two biggest consumers of energy.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in April, edged up 21 cents to $98.20 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for April slid 63 cents to settle at $107.39 a barrel in London trade.

Myrto Sokou, senior research analyst at Sucden brokers, said disappointing Chinese economic data weighed slightly on market sentiment and offset any support from the ongoing tensions in Ukraine.

China on Thursday said that its industrial output rose 8.6 per cent year-on-year in the January-February period, the slowest rate since April 2009. Meanwhile retail sales were up 11.8 per cent, also the worst performance for several years.

Data improved, but inconclusively so, in the United States, with new claims for unemployment benefits tumbling to the lowest level in more than three months, and retail sales turning positive in February after two down months.

Markets showed little significant impact from the US Energy Department's announcement Wednesday that it would release five million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a long-planned test of new market infrastructure.

But some analysts tied the release to the stresses with Russia over Ukraine, which have fueled worries of possible interruptions of Russian oil and gas exports that would squeeze buyers in Europe.

"It is clearly intended to assert the newly empowered role the US sees for itself in global energy trade and prevent Russia from reaping any potential financial benefits of perceptions of risk being priced into the market," said Eurasia Group analyt Greg Priddy.

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