– Nymex crude prices fluctuated between small gains and losses during morning Asian trade on Friday after the falling demand and rise in U.S. supplies.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the supplies rose by one million barrels in the week that ended 14 February as the refiners close down units for seasonal maintenance.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April traded at $102.79 a barrel during Asian trading, down 0.08%.

On Thursday, the New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $102.80 a barrel and a high of $102.95 a barrel to settle at $102.84 a barrel.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $99.41 a barrel, the low from Feb. 13, and resistance at $103.28 a barrel, Wednesday''s high.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that its manufacturing index deteriorated to minus 6.3 in February from January’s reading of 9.4. Analysts had expected the index to inch down to 8.0 in February.

The soft numbers fueled concerns that U.S. recovery still faces headwinds made worse by rough winter weather, and the country may demand less fuel and energy going forward than previously anticipated.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Labor said the number of individuals filing for unemployment assistance in the U.S. last week fell by 3,000 to 336,000, slightly below expectations for a decline of 4,000.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said U.S. consumer prices rose 1.6% on a year-over-year basis in January, in line with forecasts. Consumer prices were 0.1% higher from a month earlier, also matching forecasts.

Core consumer prices, which are stripped of volatile food and energy components, were also up 1.6% on a year-over-year basis and 0.1% from the previous month.

Weekly supply data also watered down prices.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 973,000 barrels last week, less than market expectations for a gain of 2.01 million barrels.

The report also showed that total motor gasoline inventories increased by 309,000 barrels, confounding expectations for a decline of 538,000 barrels.

Meanwhile inventories of distillates, which include diesel fuel and heating oil, fell by 339,000 million barrels, far less than market calls for a loss of 1.89 million.

The latter number weakened crude prices, as many investors were betting frigid winter weather would have hiked demand for heating oil more.

Meanwhile, bargain hunters entered the session and snapped up nicely priced crude futures, sending the commodity into positive territory at times.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for April delivery were up 0.05% and trading at US$110.49 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$7.70 a barrel.

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