Oil prices rise on encouraging economic data

NEW YORK -- The price of oil rose slightly Wednesday on another encouraging sign for the U.S. economy. The government reported wholesalers' sales were up for the first time in four months.

Benchmark crude gained 42 cents to $92.81 per barrel at midday in New York. The price of oil rose more than 3 percent Tuesday on concerns about supplies from the Middle East and the North Sea.

The Commerce Dept. said Wednesday that U.S. wholesalers increased their stockpiles by 0.5 percent in August after a 0.6 percent increase in July. Sales increased by their biggest margin since February.

Companies typically boost their inventories when they expect sales to rise in coming months. More restocking helps drive economic growth, which could boost oil prices. When businesses order more goods, it generally leads to more factory production.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline stayed at $3.81, the same as a day earlier, although it's up slightly from last week. A year ago at this time, the price per gallon averaged about 42 cents lower.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 29 cents to $114.79 on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

Other energy futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange:

_ Heating oil rose 2 cents to $3.23 per gallon

_ Wholesale gasoline gained a penny to $2.97 a gallon.

_ Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.44 per 1,000 cubic feet.