BANGKOK – Oil prices fell Thursday after a powerful storm that had shut down refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast started to ease as it moved inland.
Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 17 cents at midday Bangkok time to $95.32 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 84 cents to finish at $95.49 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.
Traders were watching for any reports of significant damage from Hurricane Isaac as it passed over oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm's heavy winds and rain were not expected to cause extensive damage to oil production and refinery operations.
"Although a lot of the production capacity was closed down, it was a precautionary measure and we're not hearing any reports of significant damage," said Nick Trevethan, senior commodities strategist at ANZ Research in Singapore. "There have been some power outages that may interfere with the restart of some onshore facilities."
Trevethan said markets were waiting for U.S. Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke's highly anticipated speech Friday at an economic conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Market watchers are hoping for signs that Bernanke might hint at some kind of Fed action to spur growth in the U.S.
They are also anticipating the release of manufacturing data out of China. Worse-than-expected numbers could put pressure on Beijing for more stimulus measures to help revive growth in the world's No. 2 economy.
"The market is really marking time ahead of the Jackson Hole meeting and Chinese data coming out over the weekend," Trevethan said. "A weak number might have the market thinking about stimulus."
Brent crude rose 59 cents to $113.13 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy trading, heating oil rose 1 cent to $3.1354 per gallon. Natural gas slipped 2 cents $2.666 per 1,000 cubic feet.