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Oil below $80 amid mixed US economy signals

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[February 25, 2010]  SINGAPORE (AP) -- Oil prices slipped below $80 a barrel Thursday in Asia as investors eyed mixed signals on the strength of the U.S. economy.

HardwareBenchmark crude for April delivery was down 43 cents to $79.57 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.14 to settle at $80 on Wednesday.

Investors had cheered comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who told Congress on Wednesday he expects interest rates will remain low for an extended period to help boost an economy emerging from last year's recession. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.9 percent.

"The stock market appeared to rejuvenate the bullish oil argument that this economic optimism will eventually translate into a significant upswing in OECD demand," Galena, Illinois-based Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. "This month's bull run has not necessarily achieved completion."

But some data released Wednesday reflected an economy still struggling to gain solid footing.

The Commerce Department said sales of new homes fell to a record low in January, while economists expected an increase. And the Energy Information Administration reported that oil inventories rose by 3 million barrels last week, suggesting crude demand remains weak.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil fell 1.36 cent to $2.0285 a gallon, and gasoline fell 1.5 cent to $2.0838 a gallon. Natural gas prices was steady at $4.851 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was down 32 cents at $77.77 on the ICE futures exchange.

[Associated Press; By ALEX KENNEDY]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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