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Oil drops as warmer weather, China outweigh supply data

Oil prices fell in Asia on Thursday as expectations for reduced demand due to warmer weather outweighed a smaller-than-expected increase in U.S. oil supplies.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was down 31 cents to US$102.28 a barrel at 1:10 a.m. ET in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The contract closed up 76 cents Wednesday at $102.59 after the U.S. Energy Department said crude oil supplies rose by 68,000 barrels last week, well below the increase of 1.5 million barrels expected by analysts surveyed by Platts. Supplies at the key storage point in Cushing, Okla., fell by 1.1 million barrels.

The inventories figures pointed to resilient demand but oil shed some of those gains Thursday as the approach of spring in the U.S. and weaker Chinese manufacturing could reduce crude consumption.

Investors will be watching for new policy initiatives from China's annual legislative session in early March to see what steps the government might take to shore up growth.

Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, shed 26 cents to $109.25 on the ICE exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline was down 0.2 cent at $2.983 per gallon.

— Heating oil shed 0.4 cent to $3.035 per gallon.

— Natural gas lost 3.2 cents to $4.509 per 1,000 cubic feet.

(TSX:ECA, TSX:IMO, TSX:SU, TSX:HSE, NYSE:BP, NYSE:COP, NYSE:XOM, NYSE:CVX, TSX:CNQ, TSX:TLM, TSX:COS.UN, TSX:CVE)

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