Oil prices fall on profit-taking

Oil prices lurched lower Friday in New York as traders took profits ahead of a holiday weekend in the US.

A barrel of West Texas Intermediate settled at $95.86, down $1.45 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In London, a barrel of European benchmark Brent crude settled at $117.66, 34 cents lower.

Friday's move followed a rally earlier this week during which the WTI price hit $98.11 a barrel Wednesday.

Kyle Cooper, managing partner at Houston consultancy IAF Advisers, said Friday's economic data was neutral overall, as a weak number for US January industrial production was offset by strong results in a leading consumer confidence index and a better-than-expected Empire State Manufacturing report.

It is "a little difficult to ascertain" the reason for the drop in oil prices, said Cooper. "It appears to be a little more profit-taking rather than anything" in particular.

Andy Lebow, senior vice president for energy futures at Jefferies Bache, said the weak January industrial production number was "a catalyst" for the drop.

"Industrial production is something that oil traders watch pretty closely. As industrial production increases, so does demand for petroleum products," Lebow said.

Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, pointed to a "heavy" market in crude characterized by copious supply and tepid demand. This was evident because crude didn't rally despite a run-up of 15 cents in US gasoline prices over the last two days.

"We had a big move in gasoline that crude didn't really react to," Flynn said. "That's a sign that the market is pretty well supplied on the oil front."