Oil prices rise slightly as US housing data reflects recovery

BANGKOK – The price of oil rose Tuesday as energy markets set aside worries about a financial crisis in Cyprus after the release of strong U.S. housing data.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 20 cents to US$92.36 per barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.58 to finish at $92.16 on Tuesday.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, rose 52 cents to $107.97 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Later Wednesday, the Energy Department is expected to report an increase of 2 million barrels in U.S. crude oil supplies, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. U.S. oil production, at more than 7 million barrels a day, is at the highest level in 20 years.

Oil prices fell Tuesday after lawmakers in Cyprus rejected a plan to tax bank accounts to stabilize the country’s banks and clear the way for an international bailout.

But data pointing toward a steadily improving U.S. housing market provided further proof that an economic recovery is was taking hold in the world’s biggest economy. The Commerce Department said U.S. builders started more houses and apartments in February and received building permits for future construction at the fastest pace in 4 1/2 years.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 0.5 cent to $3.045 a gallon.

— Heating oil was steady at $2.969 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 2.5 cents to $3.944 per 1,000 cubic feet.