Oil price stays around $103 per barrel

January 4, 2012 - 2:25 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Oil prices leveled off Wednesday as traders booked profits after a 4-percent surge at the start of the year.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 7 cents to $102.89 per barrel in New York. Brent crude rose $1.04 to $113.17 per barrel in London.

Prices jumped Tuesday on concerns that Iran might try to close off the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, if the U.S. and other nations impose further economic sanctions because of Iran's nuclear program. One-sixth of the world's oil exports move through the strait. Traders say they're now waiting to see if the situation heats up following Iran's military exercises over the weekend.

"It'll take something big" in Iran to drive prices much higher, analyst and trader Stephen Schork said. "You're going to need to see mines being laid or bullets flying or something."

Meanwhile the Commerce Department says that orders for computers, electronic equipment and other "core capital goods" fell for the second month in November, as the naton's economy recovers in fits and starts.

At the pump, retail gasoline prices rose nearly a penny to a national average of $3.29 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular is about 22 cents higher than it was a year ago.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose by 4 cents to $3.08 per gallon, while gasoline futures rose about a penny to $2.76 per gallon. Natural gas rose by 9 cents to $3.08 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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Chris Kahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/ChrisKahnAP