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Oil prices hover below $72 per barrel

SINGAPORE — Oil prices hovered below $72 a barrel today in Europe as traders look to weekly crude supply data for signs of recovering U.S. demand.

Benchmark crude for August delivery was up just 1 cent to $71.99 a barrel at midday London time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 16 cents to settle at $71.98 on Tuesday.

Oil investors will be mulling crude inventory levels announced by the American Petroleum Institute later Wednesday and the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration on Thursday.

Analysts expect crude supplies to fall 3.5 million barrels, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos, while inventories of gasoline and distillates will likely rise.

Some analysts are concerned growth in developed countries will slow in the second half and next year as massive government spending programs taper off.

“Following a robust increase in oil demand in the past year, the stimulus-driven rebound is giving way to slower growth,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a report. “More worryingly, OECD oil inventories look high as demand is set to soften.”

Bank of America cut its 2011 economic growth forecast for the U.S. to 2.6 percent from 3.3 percent.

In other Nymex trading in August contracts, heating oil was up just under a cent at $1.9269 a gallon, gasoline rose 0.68 of a cent to $1.9781 a gallon and natural gas rose 2 cents to $4.702 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude was down 3 cents at $71.42 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.

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