Oil price falls to near $97 a barrel

LONDON (AP) — The price of oil dropped Monday after a survey showed a slight deterioration in China's manufacturing activity.

By midday in Europe, the benchmark contract for U.S. crude for March delivery was down 24 cents to $97.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 74 cents on Friday.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was down 43 cents to $105.97 on the ICE exchange in London. A Chinese index reported Saturday by a government-affiliated agency fell from 51 points in December to 50.5 in January, just above the 50 level that signifies expansion.

Weaker manufacturing in China, the world's second-largest economy, could reduce global demand for energy, though the survey results may reflect Chinese New Year effects. This year the holiday spans late January and early February, reducing working days in both months.

Prices were pulled down last week by forecasts of warmer weather in the U.S., following a spate of extreme cold in many areas. In other energy futures trading on Nymex: —Wholesale gasoline was down 0.2 cents at $2.633 a gallon

—Heating oil dropped 1.2 cents to $2.985 a gallon. —Natural gas fell 8.7 cents to $4.856 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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