• Oil prices edge up ahead of Crimea secession vote
     | March 15,2014

    The price of oil rose Friday on concerns that tensions could rise in the Russia-Ukraine situation with this weekend’s referendum on Crimean secession.

    But oil still finished the week down more than 3 percent, largely because traders are concerned about the strength of demand from China.

    Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery rose 69 cents to close at $98.89 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. For the week, oil lost $3.69 a barrel, or 3.6 percent.

    Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, rose $1.18 to $108.57 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

    China is one of the top consumers of energy, so an economic slowdown there could dial back demand for oil.

    “The energy complex has morphed into a trade where Chinese economic releases will be a strong determinant of near term oil price direction,” wrote Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Jim Ritterbusch and Associates, in a note to clients.

    At the same time, Russia is one of the top producers of oil worldwide, meaning that any Western sanctions against Moscow for its military incursion into the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula could affect global supplies.

    The West braced Friday for a vote by the Crimean Peninsula to secede from Ukraine — and likely be annexed by Russia — as the last attempt for diplomacy broke down despite threats of costly international sanctions and other imminent penalties against Moscow for forcibly challenging a pro-European government in Kiev.

    In the U.S., the average price for a gallon of gasoline rose 1 cent to $3.51 a gallon. Gasoline prices are at their highest level since September. The average price is 19 cents higher than a month ago, but still 19 cents below where they were at this time last year.

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