Oil slips below $75 as traders eye US crude demand

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell below $75 a barrel Friday in Asia ahead of a weekly crude supply report that could reflect sluggish U.S. demand.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was down 41 cents at $74.87 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 76 cents to settle at $75.28 on Thursday.

The Energy Information Administration is scheduled to release its weekly U.S. crude inventory report later Friday. Earlier figures from the American Petroleum Institute showed crude stocks rose 7.2 million barrels last week, suggesting U.S. demand remains weak as the economy emerges from last year's recession.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency said on Thursday that oil demand in North America has "virtually stalled," but that consumption in developing countries would help offset that and help boost overall global demand this year.

Oil, which traded as low as $69.59 a barrel last week, jumped Thursday as the European Union signaled it would help Greece with its debt crisis, a move that raised hope that Portugal and Spain would also receive assistance.

"The Greek bailout is helping support global markets and the price of oil," Seattle-based Sander Capital Advisors said in a report. "If Greece was leaning further along to a default then we would have seen oil break $70 for sure."

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil fell 0.72 cent to $1.9558 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 0.77 cent to $1.9280 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 0.2 cent to $5.394 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was flat at $73.05 on the ICE futures exchange.