Oil down as traders await US data, Cyprus vote

Oil slightly down as traders await Cyprus vote, release of US housing data

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- The price of oil fell slightly Tuesday ahead of a vote by lawmakers in Cyprus on an unpopular proposal to impose a tax on bank deposits to fund a bailout for the cash-strapped country.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 3 cents to $93.71 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 29 cents to end at $93.74 a barrel in New York on Monday.

Traders are worried about a plan to seize up to 10 percent of savings accounts in Cyprus to help pay for a 15.8 billion euro ($20.4 billion) financial bailout. The government shut down banks until later this week while lawmakers wrangled over how to keep the island nation from bankruptcy. A vote is expected Tuesday.

Some bank customers withdrew as much of their cash as they could and the fear was the panic could spread to other countries and prompt capital flight from weaker EU economies.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department will release housing starts for February. In addition, Federal Reserve policymakers start a two-day meeting that is expected to end without any change to its economic stimulus policies. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to reiterate his past evaluation of the economy and particularly the job market.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 71 cents to $108.80 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline lost 2 cents to $3.098 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 1.5 cents to $3.017 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 0.7 cent to $3.889 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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