- Crude oil prices rose slightly in Asia on Friday, undepinned by geopolitical tension between the West and Russia, the world''s top oil exporter, over the fate of Crimea region in the Ukraine.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April traded at $98.26 a barrel, up 0.06%, after hitting an overnight session low of $97.68 a barrel and a high of $98.60 a barrel.

Investors also remained wary as tensions between Russia and the West remained high ahead of Sunday''s referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region, now controlled by pro-Russian forces, on whether citizens want to join Russia.

Overnight, oil prices found reason to rise on better-than-expected retail sales and jobless claims data. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange fell 63 cents, or 0.6%, at $107.39 a barrel, its lowest price since Feb. 6.

The Commerce Department reported that U.S. retail sales rose 0.3% in February, ending two months of declines and better than market expectations for a 0.2% increase.

Core retail sales, which exclude automobile sales, also rose 0.3% last month, ahead of expectations for a 0.2% rise.

Separately, the Department of Labor said the number of individuals filing initial jobless claims in the U.S. fell by 9,000 to a three-month low of 315,000 last week.

Analysts had expected initial jobless claims to rise by 6,000 last week.

The numbers painted a picture of a U.S. economy that is on the mend, poised to demand more fuel and energy going forward.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for May delivery were down 0.15% and trading at US$107.19 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$9.27 a barrel.

On Friday, the U.S. is to round up the week with data on producer price inflation and preliminary data from the University of Michigan on consumer sentiment.

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