Oil lower ahead of US energy reserves data

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 20 2011 11:50 AM | Updated as of Jan 20 2011 08:52 PM

SINGAPORE - Oil was lower in Asian trade Thursday as investors awaited the release of a widely watched US government energy inventory report, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for February delivery, dropped 15 cents to $90.71 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery was off 15 cents to $98.01.

Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires expect US crude stocks to have decreased by 900,000 barrels last week while gasoline reserves are seen to surge by 2.3 million barrels.

The report by the US Department of Energy is usually released on Wednesday but was delayed by a day because of the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday.

A bleak snapshot of the US housing market appeared to dampen investor sentiment.

"The question for (traders) is how will economic data scroll out in a $90-plus crude oil environment?" said Mike Fitzpatrick, of the Kilduff Report.

Data released Wednesday by the Commerce Department showed new housing starts across the United States stood at a measly 587,000 in 2010, up slightly from the year before, but still at the second lowest level since 1959.