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Oil prices ease back after day of strong gains

PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) — The price of oil eased back Wednesday after a strong day of gains propelled by U.S. economic data suggesting a sustained recovery in the world's largest economy.

Benchmark oil for May delivery fell 35 cents at late afternoon Bangkok time to $95.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.53 to finish at a five-week high of $96.34 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

The U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday that orders for factory-produced durable goods rose more than expected in February. Home prices also rose in January, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city price index. That helped push up energy prices.

But analysts say it is too soon to forget about the debt crisis in Europe. The latest crisis point was Cyprus, which teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and collapse of its financial system until a deal was reached early Monday to provide some 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) from international lenders. The deal, however, requires Cyprus to slash its oversized banking sector and inflict hefty losses on large depositors in troubled banks.

"The events in Cyprus have provided another very visible — albeit extreme — illustration of the financial problems and uncertainties in Europe which are holding back the global recovery," said analysts at Capital Economics in a market commentary. "Indeed, even though the Cypriot economy itself is tiny, the ramifications could still be felt worldwide, both in economic activity and in financial market volatility."

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 15 cents to $109.21 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 0.2 cent to $3.104 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 0.2 cent to $2.8840 a gallon.

— Natural gas advanced by 1.5 cents to $4.006 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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