Oil hovers above $82 as month-long rally stalls

SINGAPORE: Oil prices hovered above $82 a barrel Friday in Asia as investors mulled whether extending a monthlong rally is justified amid evidence of weak U.S. crude demand.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 8 cents to $82.19 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 2 cents to settle at $82.11 on Thursday.

Crude has jumped 18 percent from $69.59 a barrel on Feb. 5 as economic data pointed to slow but steady U.S. economic growth. However, high crude inventories belie a rosy economic outlook, and suggest consumer spending remains sluggish.

"We are still having much difficulty in constructing a bullish fundamental case," Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. "We expect the crude stock build to continue well into the spring period."

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil fell 1.04 cents to $2.1058 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 1.29 cents to $2.2722 a gallon. Natural gas declined 2.7 cents to $4.532 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was up 11 cents at $80.39 on the ICE futures exchange.