BANGKOK -- The price of oil rose Wednesday ahead of the release of U.S. housing starts for January.
Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 30 cents to $97.40 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract expires Wednesday. It rose 80 cents to finish at $96.66 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.
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Later in the day, the U.S. Commerce Department will release housing starts for the month of January, a key gauge of the real estate industry and economy. In December, builders broke ground on houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000. That was 12.1 percent higher than November's annual rate.
A report on Tuesday showed that confidence among homebuilders slipped, as builders remain concerned about the sturdiness of the U.S. economy and the risk of rising unemployment.
In Germany, a survey of investor confidence was upbeat on Tuesday, but traders are concerned about the possible outcome of a weekend parliamentary election in Italy. Traders are worried that a change in leadership could derail efforts to end Europe's financial crisis.
Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong wrote in a market commentary that the polls "may yet dampen confidence so we would caution about becoming too excited."
Brent crude, used to price many international varieties of oil, was up 7 cents to $117.59 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
-- Heating oil rose 0.9 cent to $3.191 per gallon.
-- Wholesale gasoline was nearly unchanged at $3.316 per gallon.
-- Natural gas added 1.7 cents to $3.289 per 1,000 cubic feet.