Oil falls slightly to near $82 a barrel in Asia as rally to three-month high pauses

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices fell slightly to near $82 a barrel Thursday in Asia, pausing from a rally that lifted the commodity to a three-month high this week amid positive U.S. corporate earnings and economic figures.

Benchmark crude for September delivery was down 33 cents to $82.14 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 8 cents to settle at $82.47.

Oil has traded in the $70s for most of this year as doubts about the strength of the economic recovery in developed countries offset surging crude demand in developing economies.

Signs of improving U.S. oil demand helped support crude prices. In its weekly report Wednesday, the Energy Department said commercial oil inventories fell by 2.8 million barrels last week, a bigger drop than analysts had expected.

Also on Wednesday, payroll company ADP said private employers increased hiring last month and a service sector index rose unexpectedly in July. Broadcaster CBS Corp., video game maker Electronic Arts Inc., online travel site Priceline.com Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. reported better than expected second-quarter earnings.

"For the moment, the battle between pessimistic macroeconomic sentiment and strong global oil data has been resolved in favor of the latter," Barcays Capital said in a report. "We see $80 and above as the price aptly befitting fundamentals."

In other Nymex trading in September contracts, heating oil fell 0.65 cent to $2.1957 a gallon, gasoline skidded 0.71 cent to $2.1679 a gallon and natural gas rose 2.2 cents to 4.759 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude was down 31 cents to $81.89 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.