NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil fell slightly Monday after an unexpectedly weak economic report from China and warnings of a further slowdown.
But the hope of stimulus action by the Federal Reserve on Thursday served as a safety net, preventing the price from falling further.
Data released Monday showed China's imports shrank unexpectedly in August, and the Chinese president warned growth could slow further. Factory output is now at a three-year low. It's troubling news from the world's second-largest economy, especially when growth in the world's No. 1 economy — the U.S. — has also slowed.
On Friday, the U.S. government reported the economy added a weaker-than-expected 96,000 jobs last month.
Benchmark crude lost 28 cents to $96.14 per barrel around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. Still, the price remains in a virtual stall as traders await action from the central banks in both the U.S. and China. Oil has traded between $94 per barrel and $97 per barrel nearly a month.
Meanwhile, the average price at the pump held steady the past week after rising sharply because of Hurricane Isaac. The national average for gasoline is now $3.83 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. That's still up about 14 cents from a month ago.
Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, gained 20 cents to $114.45 per barrel in London.
Other futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange:
— Wholesale gasoline was flat at $3.02 a gallon.
— Heating oil was also flat at $3.15 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 4 cents to hit $2.72 per 1,000 cubic feet.