By Gavin Evans
Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil traded near $95 a barrel in New York after gaining 4.1 percent last week as signs of sustained economic growth in Asia encouraged investors to buy commodities.
Hedge fund managers and other large speculators increased bets on rising oil prices for the first time in five weeks, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission reported Feb. 15. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may cut output next month, reflecting the usual seasonal demand decline after the Northern Hemisphere winter, Iran's oil minister said yesterday.
Crude oil for March delivery was at $95.44 a barrel, down 6 cents in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 10:09 a.m. in Sydney.
The contract rose as much as 1.3 percent to $96.67, a five- week high, on Feb. 15 before settling up 4 cents at $95.50. Prices eased after a report showed consumer confidence in the U.S., the world's biggest oil consumer, fell to a 16-year low this month.
Brent crude for April settlement dropped 53 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $94.63 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange the same day.
OPEC members produce more than 40 percent of the world's oil and will review production when they meet March 5. The group last week lowered its 2008 oil demand growth forecast to 1.4 percent citing the risk of recession in the U.S. Daily demand in the second-quarter will dip by about 1.6 million barrels from the first-quarter, according to the group's report.
``Cutting production has been the normal process every year in March,'' Iranian oil minister Gholamhossein Nozari told reporters in Tehran yesterday.