BANGKOK – Oil prices rose above $96 a barrel Friday after China reported better-than-expected monthly trade data, a sign that its economic recovery is gaining traction.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 25 cents to $96.08 at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The contract fell 79 cents to finish at $95.83 on the Nymex on Thursday after the head of the European Central Bank expressed concern over a recent rise in the euro. A strong euro hurts the export prospects of the 17 countries that use the common currency. It also tends to result in higher oil prices by making crude sold in dollars cheaper, and a more enticing investment, for traders using currencies other than the greenback.
China's trade growth surged in January. Exports soared 25 percent from a year earlier and rose 14.1 percent from December. Import growth rocketed to 28 percent, and more than quadrupled from the previous month's 6 percent.
Analysts said, however, the year-on-year data could be distorted because Lunar New Year fell in January in 2012. This year, companies picked up pace in January to fill orders before shutting down for the holiday, which this year falls in February.
Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai securities in Hong Kong, said the data "confirms market consensus, which is that economic growth in mainland China is stepping up."
In London, Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 61 cents to $117.85 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline rose 1.3 cents to $3.012 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 0.2 cent to $3.287 per 1,000 cubic feet.
— Heating oil gained 2.2 cents to $3.222 a gallon.