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Oil Braces for First Monthly Hike Since Sept.

Oil prices are on pace for the first monthly gain since September as the U.S. and Iran stand on the brink of a more direct confrontation in the Middle East.

The West Texas Intermediate contract for March was last down $1.09, or 1.40%, to trade at $76.73 a barrel on Wednesday. The Brent
contract for March was trading at $81.90 a barrel, down 97 cents or 1.17%.

Prices fell Tuesday after China factory activity contracted for the fourth consecutive month. WTI and Brent, however, are up 6.98% and 6.31% respectively for January.

Though Chinese economic data is weighing on the market, prices have risen for the month on stronger than expected U.S. growth, disruptions to crude supplies in the U.S. due to winter storms, and Beijing’s efforts to simulate its economy.

The market is also waiting for the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates Wednesday as well as crude inventory data in the U.S.