Oil Prices Get Small Boost

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices found little momentum Wednesday, even amid more signs of an improving U.S. economy.

Benchmark oil for April delivery rose 13 cents to finish at $92.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was down from a high of $93.37, reached after another positive report on housing and government data showing U.S. oil supplies rose less than expected last week.

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January from December to the highest level in almost three years. The National Association of Realtors' index for pending home sales rose 4.5 percent to the highest point since April 2010. The report helped boost U.S. stock markets, and the major indexes were up more than 1 percent in afternoon trading.

Crude inventories increased by 1.1 million barrels, or 0.3 percent, to 377.5 million barrels, according to the weekly report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration. That was less than half the increase expected by analysts.

Still, supplies are 9.5 percent above year-ago levels, which likely kept traders' enthusiasm to buy in check.

Gasoline pump prices rose to a national average of $3.79 a gallon. Alaska joined New York, California, Hawaii and the District of Columbia with averages above $4 a gallon. There may be a bit of relief in sight: Gasoline futures on the NYMEX dropped sharply for a second straight day.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 84 cents to end at $111.87 on the ICE Futures exchange In London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline was down 9 cents to finish at $3.11 a gallon.
  • Heating oil fell 4 cents to end at $2.99 a gallon.
  • Natural gas fell 2 cents to finish at $3.43 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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