Oil prices stall ahead of Fed minutes release

Oil prices stall below $96 per barrel ahead of release of Federal Reserve minutes for July

BANGKOK (AP) —

Oil prices stalled Tuesday as traders avoided big moves ahead of the release of Federal Reserve minutes from last month's meeting for clues as to the intentions of the U.S. central bank's policymakers.

Benchmark oil for September delivery fell 2 cents at midday Bangkok time to $95.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The contract dropped 4 cents to finish at $95.97 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, fell 13 cents to $113.57 per barrel in London.

Traders were waiting for the release of the Fed's Open Market Committee minutes from its July meeting for signs that the Fed might take steps to lower interest rates to spur the sluggish recovery, said Natalie Rampono, ANZ Banking Group commodities analyst.

Lower rates are usually positive for oil prices because they drive investors away from safe haven investments like Treasurys and toward riskier assets like commodities and oil.

Oil has risen to around $96 per barrel in recent days from $78 in late June. Investors have been worried about disruption to oil supplies in the Middle East and North Sea.

In the U.S., there were problems with refineries and pipelines in the West Coast and Midwest, including a fire in California. Seasonal factors are also at play: Summer blends of gas cost more and demand goes up as families go on vacation.

Additionally, the Obama administration appears to be concerned about high gasoline prices. A senior administration official told The Associated Press on Friday that the U.S. is considering a release of oil from the country's strategic reserves. It will monitor gas prices to see whether they fall before making a decision.

In other futures trading on the Nymex, heating oil was up 0.2 cents $3.10 per gallon. Natural gas fell 0.3 cents to $2.773 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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