Oil prices eased on Tuesday as traders weighed their next move after several weeks of gains.
Benchmark crude for March delivery eased 4 cents to $95.82 in late morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Nymex floor trading had been closed on Monday for the Presidents Day holiday in the U.S. The contract fell $1.45 on Friday.
Oil prices have been rising since mid-December, when oil traded around $87 per barrel. Analysts noted that investors have bought into oil markets speculatively in recent weeks on hopes for a stronger recovery in the global economy.
Economic indicators have been mixed, however, showing many parts of Europe remain in recession and the U.S. only gradually recovering. That leaves crude oil prices vulnerable to a sell-off, according to analysts at Commerzbank.
In the U.S., a report on Tuesday showed that confidence among homebuilders slipped compared to January, as builders remain concerned about the sturdiness of the U.S. economy and the risk of rising unemployment.
In Germany, a survey of investor confidence was upbeat on Tuesday but, looking ahead, traders are concerned about political developments elsewhere in the 17-country eurozone, mainly Italy. Polls have suggested that elections are likely to produce a split parliament, making it difficult for a coalition government to push through unpopular economic reforms.
Brent crude, used to price many international varieties of oil, was down 64 cents to $116.74 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
— Heating oil fell 4 cents to $3.17 per gallon.
— Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $3.11 per gallon.
— Natural gas added 10 cents to $3.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.