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Oil prices little changed on lack of fresh news after Nigeria strike ends

Oil prices were steady in electronic trading Tuesday amid sluggish trade due to a U.S. holiday.

Prices have been eased from last Friday in the U.S. by news that a Nigerian oil workers' strike ended over the weekend. Monday there was no floor trade and no closing price in the U.S. because of the Memorial Day holiday.

Light, sweet crude for July delivery was at US$64.56 a barrel midmorning in Singapore Tuesday, down 64 cents from Friday but little changed from Monday, when the contract traded down to US$64.55 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The Memorial Day weekend signals the start of the U.S. driving season, and traders are anticipating upswings in prices, believing that Americans are ready to take to the highways despite near-record gasoline prices.

"Over the Memorial Day weekend, some 32.1 million Americans were expected to cover distances of 50 miles or more," Vienna's PVM Oil Associates said, citing the American Automobile Association. "This represents a 1.8 percent increase from last year's level."

In Nigeria, labor union officials ordered oil workers back to work Saturday after the government agreed to a 15 percent raise for all employees of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. The unions began the strike Thursday and threatened to target exports in hopes of reversing the sale of government refineries.

Nigeria's state oil company holds the majority stake in joint ventures with international oil companies that account for more than 90 percent of the country's oil exports. The strike did not affect crude output from Africa's biggest producer.

In other Nymex trading Tuesday, heating oil futures added 1.05 cents to US$1.9185 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices dropped a tad to US$7.515 a gallon.

Before the long weekend, U.S. crude oil climbed more than US$1 to US$65.20 Friday. The U.S. market is to reopen later Tuesday.

Brent crude futures rose 25 cents to US$69.96 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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