Oil drifts below $82 as month-long rally stalls

SINGAPORE: Oil prices drifted below $82 a barrel Friday in Asia, pulling back from a monthlong rally that was fueled by mostly positive news about the U.S. economy.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 26 cents to $81.94 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 73 cents to settle at $82.20 on Thursday.

Crude jumped to $83 a barrel earlier this week from $69 early last month on expectations sluggish consumer demand will eventually catch up with a steadily improving U.S. economy.

Some analysts say investor concerns that low interest rates and massive government spending could spark inflation will help keep crude prices from a protracted downturn.

"Oil is receiving immense support from inflationary fears and a rising Dow Jones index," Sander Capital said in a report. "Oil should stay above $80 next week."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent Thursday, the index's eighth straight gain.

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil fell 0.57 cent to $2.113 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 0.46 cent to $2.296 a gallon. Natural gas was steady at $4.085 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was down 22 cents at $81.26 on the ICE futures exchange.