Oil nearly unchanged as traders await the release of US housing data

BANGKOK – The price of oil was stable Tuesday as traders set aside jitters about Cyprus and turned their attention to a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting and soon-to-be released housing data.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was unchanged at US$93.74 per barrel at midday 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.

The U.S. Commerce Department will release housing starts for February later Tuesday. Data on sales of existing homes for the month will be released Thursday.

Also Tuesday, 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.

Traders had been worried about a plan to pay for a bailout for cash-strapped Cyprus by imposing a tax on deposits in the country’s banks. 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.

Global stock markets fell Monday, but Asian markets staged a recovery on Tuesday.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 10 cents to $109.41 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline lost 1.5 cents to $3.102 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 0.8 cent to $3.024 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 0.5 cent to $3.887 per 1,000 cubic feet.