Oil futures: Crude little changed as market weighs economy

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Crude oil prices were little changed on Monday as traders sorted through the latest conflicting signals from major global economies.

Prices were buoyed in overnight trading by news that Japan's second-quarter gross domestic product fell by a less-than-expected 1.3% in the second quarter in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami there. "Most were thinking the earthquake/tsunami would have dented the production to the neighborhood of -2.5%," said Carl Larry, director of energy derivatives and research at Blue Ocean Brokerage. Japan's appetite for petroleum to run power plants is expected to grow this year while nuclear facilities remain offline.

But key data from the New York Federal Reserve showed regional manufacturing fell in August for the third straight month, against expectations for a modest rise. The Empire State's business conditions index fell to -7.72 this month, from -3.76 in July. Economists expected a rise to 1.5 in August.

Light, sweet crude oil for September delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up 35 cents at $85.73 a barrel. ICE Brent crude oil for September delivery was 28 cents higher at $108.31 a barrel ahead of its expiration on Tuesday.

Traders said the market is looking to regain its footing after tumbling to a near-10-month intraday low of $75.71 a barrel last Tuesday and sputtering back to top $85 by week's end. That's still well below prices near $100 a month ago as worries over U.S. and European debt have triggered a major shakeout across all markets.

"We're just trying to recover from a wild week," said Peter Donovan, vice president at Vantage Trading. He said he field calls from investors looking for bargains late last week as many momentum traders were exiting the market.

Reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for September delivery were 0.63 cent higher, at $2.8285 a gallon. September heating oil futures were 1.61 cents higher, at $2.9198 a gallon.

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