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Oil prices climb on upbeat US data

Oil prices pushed higher on Thursday after a batch of solid economic data in the United States, the world's top consumer of crude, lifted demand hopes.

NEW YORK: Oil prices pushed higher on Thursday after a batch of solid economic data in the United States, the world's top consumer of crude, lifted demand hopes.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for October advanced 51 cents to close at US$93.96 (S$117.40) a barrel. The main European futures contract, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in October, settled at US$102.63 (S$128.24) a barrel, up 35 cents in London trade.

A series of better-than-expected US economic indicators fuelled "a lot of optimism" about the economy and hope for "a little bit of stronger demand going forward," said Carl Larry of Oil Outlooks and Opinions.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits fell below 300,000, sales of existing homes heated up to their fastest pace in almost a year and the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators improved sharply. "At the end of the day, oil prices go up every time the economy is getting better," Larry said.

The solid US economic numbers followed Wednesday's bullish US oil inventories report, showing a surprisingly big drop in crude stocks last week that also suggested better demand. The positive signs in the US helped to offset weaker data from China and the eurozone.

HSBC data showed China's manufacturing growth slowed in August, indicating a recovery in the world's second-largest economy has yet to take hold.

For the eurozone, Markit's purchasing managers index came in below expectations and pointed to only timid economic growth in the 18-nation currency bloc.

Traders, meanwhile, continued to track geopolitical tensions in crude producers Libya and Iraq, as well as Ukraine, a key conduit for Russian gas exports to Europe, analysts said.

"Supply fears stemming from conflicts in both Iraq and Ukraine have recently diminished," said Dorian Lucas, an analyst at energy consultancy Inenco.

"Supply fears have also been quelled by an increased export volume from Libya. Exports have resumed from Libya's largest port following the end of the year-long blockade."

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