BANGKOK – Oil prices were nearly flat Wednesday as a recent rally cooled off ahead of the release of more U.S. economic indicators and the conclusion of a meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 1 cent to $97.56 a barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to close at $97.57 on Tuesday after being pushed higher by a report about rising U.S. home prices. Energy prices can rise when investors feel good about the economy, since it's needed to power manufacturing and other economic activity.
But traders became slightly more cautious ahead of the release of other U.S. economic indicators, including economic growth on Wednesday and weekly jobless claims Thursday. In addition, the Federal Reserve will conclude a two-day meeting later Wednesday with the release of a statement that investors will study for clues about the outlook for the economy and interest rates.
Recent rises in oil prices have been the result of an improving global economy, and positive manufacturing reports from the U.S. and China. But significant gains could be capped by demand constraints and ample supply, analysts said.
"The fundamentals are also likely to deteriorate again later in the year," said analysts at Capital Economics in a report. "Over the longer term, booming energy supply from both conventional and new sources will also add to the downward pressure on prices."
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 1 cents to $114.37 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $2.966 per gallon.
— Natural gas rose 3.4 cents to $3.292 per 1,000 cubic feet.
— Heating oil rose 0.6 cent to $3.104 a gallon.