Oil hovers above $74 as traders eye crude demand

SINGAPORE: Oil prices hovered above $74 a barrel Tuesday in Asia as investors looked for signs of improving global crude demand amid light holiday trading.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was up 9 cents at $74.22 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. With markets closed Monday in the U.S. for the Presidents Day holiday, the contract last settled on Friday, falling $1.15 to $74.13.

Trading volume was light in Asia as markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Oil has traded between $69 a barrel and $84 for the last few months as investors struggle to gauge global crude demand.

On Monday, Japan said its economy grew an annualized 4.6 percent in the fourth quarter while China raised reserve requirements for banks last week in a bid to slow economic growth and avoid asset bubbles.

"There are some signs of improvement in OECD countries as a whole with strong Japanese growth data," Barclays Capital said in a report. "Worries about softening in China's commodity demand are overblown."

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil was steady at $1.9203 a gallon, and gasoline fell 0.47 cent to $1.9248 a gallon. Natural gas rose 4.6 cents to $5.51 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was up 35 cents at $72.86 on the ICE futures exchange.