Oil prices fell in Asian trade today on lingering concerns over the US economy despite better-than-expected earnings by aluminium giant Alcoa.

Global markets have shifted their attention from the US fiscal debate to corporate earnings to gauge the health of the world’s biggest economy and largest oil consuming nation going into 2013, analysts said.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February fell two cents to $93.13 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for February delivery dropped 12 cents to $111.82 in a volatile morning trade.

“The recent fiscal cliff-inspired rally is fast becoming the Ghost of Christmas Past as traders shift their focus to US corporate earnings,” said Jason Hughes, head of premium client management at IG Markets in Singapore.

“Solid gains notched up in the first week of the year across global markets are so far just being nibbled at by fears of disappointing fourth-quarter profits across US blue chip stocks.”

Alcoa reported earnings of $242 million in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with a year-earlier loss of $191 million. The results were boosted by a gain of $161 million related to the sale of a hydroelectric asset.

The company also stayed in the black for the full year, despite aluminium prices falling 12 per cent.

Hughes said that while Alcoa’s earnings were “slightly” better than expected, analysts have been slashing back forecasts so the bar is already low.

Victor Shum, Managing Director at energy consultancy IHS Purvin and Gertz, said the market is also waiting for trade data from China with “expectations that it will show export growth”.

(This article was published on January 9, 2013)
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