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Oil rises to near $96 ahead of U.S. data

BANGKOK (AP) — The price of oil rose slightly Monday, a sign of investor confidence in the U.S. economy's recovery ahead of the release of data this week on jobs, home sales and the country's overall growth.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 8 cents to $95.96 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 7 cents to close at $95.88 on the Nymex on Friday after a report showed a cooling off in new U.S. home sales.

The U.S. government will release monthly durable goods figures later Monday, and the National Association of Realtors will report on pending home sales for December. Later in the week, reports on weekly jobless claims and employment data for January are due.

Analysts expect to see continuing signs of a sluggish recovery, even amid lowered expectations for fourth-quarter economic growth for 2012, to be released by the U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday.

"If 4Q growth comes in at the 1.5 percent we expect, it will have averaged 2 percent over the past four quarters ... Slow and steady is the name of the game," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 28 cents to $113 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.8 cent to $2.882 per gallon.

— Natural gas fell 7.4 cents to $3.37 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 0.1 cent to $3.048 a gallon.

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