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Oil rises after China posts record crude imports

Oil prices climbed on Wednesday after upbeat Chinese trade data raised hopes for stronger demand from the world's largest energy consumer.

NEW YORK: Oil prices climbed on Wednesday after upbeat Chinese trade data raised hopes for stronger demand from the world's largest energy consumer.

The main US futures contract, West Texas Intermediate for March delivery, advanced 43 cents to $100.37 a barrel,the highest close since October.

Earlier WTI hit an intraday peak of $101.38, a level last seen in mid-October.

The European benchmark contract, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March, settled at $108.79 a barrel, picking up 11 cents from Tuesday's close.

The oil market was lifted by better-than-expected Chinese trade data that followed a spate of disappointing reports suggesting weakness in the second-largest economy.

China's trade surplus surged in January, with exports jumping 10.6 per cent and imports 10.0 per cent.

China imported a record 6.63 million barrels of crude oil per day in January, up 5.2 per cent from December.

"The figures point to surprisingly robust oil demand in China, which should allay concerns that the dynamism of demand is weakening," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said.

Meanwhile US crude inventories rose by 3.3 million barrels, slightly more than expected, in the week ended February 7.

But supplies at the Oklahoma Cushing storage hub fell by 2.7 million barrels, after a drop of 1.5 million during the prior week.

"The market just yawned" about the overall crude build and instead focused on other elements of the report, said Bart Melek of TD Securities.

"It is all about Cushing today," Melek said.

Melek tied the fall of Cushing supplies to the opening two weeks ago of a new pipeline taking oil from the depot to Gulf Coast refineries.

A build-up of supplies at Cushing before the pipeline started had put downward pressure on WTI prices.

"We are seeing the bottleneck between Cushing and the Gulf Coast being mitigated/alleviated," he said.

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