Oil above $100 a barrel as debt talks continue

By SANDY SHORE | July 26, 2011 | 12:58 PM EDT

Oil was rising Tuesday afternoon as lawmakers continued to talk about raising the nation's debt limit and the dollar weakened on uncertainty about the economy.

While congressional leaders bicker over spending and raising the borrowing limit ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline, oil traders are taking their cues for buying and selling contracts from other financial markets instead of supply-and-demand basics.

The dollar fell sharply against the euro and other currencies on Tuesday. That tends to raise the price of oil, since crude is priced in dollars and a weaker dollar makes oil more of a bargain for traders using other currencies.

Oil's gains were held in check by drooping stock markets and new reports that showed the economic recovery remained sluggish. New homes sales fell 1 percent in June, according to the government. And U.S. consumer confidence improved a little in July but remained weak overall, according to a monthly survey by The Conference Board.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery rose $1.04 to $100.24 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude gained 92 cents at $118.86 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The uncertainty about what will happen with the U.S. debt ceiling and a possible default is making "some of the traders seesaw back and forth," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research.

He thinks that oil prices will drift in a narrow range, perhaps fall $1 a day until there is a resolution about the debt limit.

When a deal is completed, traders will pay more attention to supplies, demand and expectations for the economy through the rest of the year, he said.

Energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch also speculated that oil will climb above $100 a barrel when an agreement is reached.

In other Nymex contracts for August, heating oil rose 2 cents to $3.1450 a gallon, gasoline gained 3 cents at $3.1085 a gallon and natural gas fell 4 cents to $4.320 per 1,000 cubic feet.