BANGKOK Oil prices fell below $96 a barrel Friday after disappointing U.S. industrial production data fed concerns about the nation's economic recovery.
In New York benchmark crude for March fell $2, or 2 percent, to $95.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in afternoon trading. Brent crude, used to price many varieties of foreign oil, fell 61 cents to $117.39 per barrel in London.
The Federal Reserve said Friday that U.S. factory production slowed in January, mostly because of a big drop in output at auto factories. Most analysts think the slowdown is temporary, but it was enough to raise concern about the still-sluggish economic recovery.
"Global growth will still be fairly weak this year, which will prevent industry from firing on all cylinders. But there's no denying that industrial conditions have recently improved," said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
Heading into the Presidents Day weekend, drivers are still seeing gas pump prices climbing. The national average is $3.64 a gallon, up a cent and a half from Thursday, with the highest prices in California, the Northeast and the Midwest.
Retail gasoline prices have been rising steadily as oil prices have lingered in the upper 90's and many refineries have slowed operations for seasonal maintenance. That is crimping supplies and pushing up prices.
"The annual switchover from winter to summer grade product by the refineries at this time of the year always represents a balancing act with the availability of cheaper-to-produce winter grade supply often times being reduced too much in order to make room for summer grade product," said independent analyst Jim Ritterbusch.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
- Heating oil fell 2 cents to $3.20 a gallon.
- Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $3.11 a gallon.
- Natural gas fell 1 cent to $3.15 per 1,000 cubic feet.