The price of crude fell slightly to near $94 per barrel Tuesday after Japan released lukewarm manufacturing data and on expectations that U.S. crude supplies were set to rise.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for June delivery was down 23 cents to $94.27 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.50 to finish at $94.50 a barrel in New York. Oil hadn't finished above $94 since April 10.
Data released by the Japanese government showed a slight uptick in monthly factory production. But the improvement was not as solid as analysts had expected. Robust U.S. energy production was also keeping oil prices in check, analysts said.
"We have plenty of domestic production," Carl Larry of Oil Outlooks and Opinions said in a commentary. "The concern over these past few weeks about lower production was that lingering winter weather was going to hamper new and existing production."
Investors will also be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.
Analysts expect crude stocks to have risen again last week, to 23-year-highs, further weighing on prices.
The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.
Expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will uphold dovish money policies at its Wednesday meeting in Washington and that the European Central Bank will cut interest rates Thursday helped keep a floor under prices but were not enough to cause an increase.
"As recent months have demonstrated ... liquidity alone is not enough to push up oil prices — what this requires is a brightening of the economic outlook," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Brent crude, which is used to set prices of oil from the North Sea used by many U.S. refiners, was down 18 cents to $103.63 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.67 cent to $2.8153 a gallon.
— Heating oil retreated 1.07 cents to $2.8561 a gallon.
— Natural gas lost 2.2 cents to $4.37 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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