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Oil falls after weaker US data, Yellen testimony

Oil prices fell modestly on Thursday as investors digested weaker US data, US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen's unsurprising testimony to Congress and rising Ukraine tensions.

NEW YORK: Oil prices fell modestly on Thursday as investors digested weaker US data, US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen's unsurprising testimony to Congress and rising Ukraine tensions.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in April, slipped 19 cents to finish at $102.40 a barrel.

In London trade, Brent North Sea crude for April settled at $108.96 a barrel, a drop of 56 cents from Wednesday's close.

The US benchmark traded lower after some weaker-than-expected data added to soft indicators on the US economy, and stayed down after Yellen's testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.

First-time claims for unemployment insurance benefits, a sign of the pace of layoffs, rose last week and new orders for manufactured durable goods fell 1.0 per cent in January.

Yellen meanwhile said that the intense winter storms of the past two months have been one cause of the recent run of weaker US economic data.

"What we need to do and will be doing in the weeks ahead is to try to get firmer handle on exactly how much of that set of soft data can be explained by weather and what portion, if any, is due to softer outlook," she told lawmakers.

Analysts said there were no big surprises in Yellen's testimony, which stressed the Fed would continue to taper its $65 billion asset-purchase program unless there was a significant change in the economic outlook.

Meanwhile, the market kept watch over the crisis in Ukraine, where the ousted pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, emerged defiant Thursday from five days in hiding as the country's new leaders issued a blunt warning to Russia against any aggression on the volatile Crimean peninsula.

Anxious Western governments voiced fears about the "dangerous" situation in Crimea after dozens of pro-Kremlin gunmen in combat fatigues seized government buildings in the autonomous republic and pleaded with Moscow not to escalate tensions.

"Concerns over slowing economic growth in China is pressuring Brent lower, as is the general risk-off tone in Europe as tensions rise in the Crimea," said Addison Armstrong, head of market research at Tradition Energy.

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