Oil lingers near $75 a barrel in Asia as stock markets gain after US economic indicators

BANGKOK (AP) — Oil prices lingered near $75 a barrel Friday in Asia, largely holding onto a big gain the day before as investors put a positive spin on U.S. economic reports and Asian stock markets rose.

Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 30 cents at $74.72 a barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.11 to settle at $75.02 on Thursday.

The Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, but are still above levels in a healthy economy.

The National Association of Realtors said the number of Americans who signed contracts to purchase previously owned homes rose 5.2 percent in July. That was 19 percent below the same month last year and home sales remain at the lowest level in more than a decade.

One brighter spot: Factory orders rose 0.1 percent in July, indicating some industrial growth.

The indicators were enough to spark more gains in Asian stock markets after a big jump on Thursday following a month of heavy selling amid evidence the global economic recovery is faltering.

In other Nymex trading in October contracts, heating oil fell 0.84 cent to $2.054 a gallon and gasoline fell 0.63 cent to $1.915 a gallon. Natural gas for October delivery rose 1.9 cents to $3.77 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude fell 38 cents to settle at $76.55 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.