Oil hovers below $75 in Asia as traders look for demand clues from US economic data

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices hovered below $75 a barrel Friday in Asia as investors looked to U.S. economic indicators for signs crude demand may be improving.

Benchmark crude for October delivery was up 20 cents to $74.77 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.45 to settle at $74.57 on Thursday.

Oil prices have traded near $75 a barrel for most of the past year as the global economy emerges from last year's recession, but crude demand remains weak in developed countries. Crude traders pay close attention to U.S. economic indicators to shed light on oil consumption and to stock markets as a barometer of overall investor sentiment.

Economic news Thursday suggested the U.S. economy is stabilizing, but growth may be sluggish. The Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to a two-month low last week of 450,000. The Producer Price Index, which indicates prices at the wholesale level, rose more than expected last month, easing concerns about deflation.

On Friday, investors will be eyeing the latest figures on consumer prices and consumer sentiment.

"CPI and consumer sentiment data will likely determine how the equities and hence, oil prices finish this week," Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. "We still view the macroeconomic influence as positive and capable of pushing oil prices back up by as much as $4 to $5 possibly by late September or early October."

In other Nymex trading in October contracts, heating oil was up 0.86 cent at $2.108 a gallon and gasoline gained 1.20 cents to $1.937 a gallon. Natural gas added 1.1 cents at $4.073 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude added 44 cents to $78.92 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.