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Oil prices up but rise is limited as estimates for 2013 crude demand vary

The price of oil rose Thursday, but gains were limited by conflicting estimates for crude demand for 2013.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 10 cents to $97.11 per barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 50 cents Wednesday to finish at $97.01 a barrel on the Nymex after a U.S. government report showed an increase in U.S. oil supplies.

Crude supplies increased by 600,000 barrels, or 0.2 percent, to 696 million barrels, which is 9.8 percent above year-ago levels, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report. The American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, reported that crude inventory fell by 2.3 million barrels for the week ending Feb. 8. The API relies on voluntary reports from distributors and pipeline operators, while submissions for the government's report are mandatory.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency lowered its consumption forecast by 85,000 barrels a day compared with data from a month ago. The IEA expects the world to use 90.7 million barrels of crude oil a day this year. That is 1 million barrels a day more than OPEC's estimate, released Tuesday, of 89.7 million barrels a day. OPEC raised its 2013 forecast for global demand, citing signs of recovery in the global economy.

Analysts said oil prices have avoided dramatic fluctuations because of the difficulty in pinpointing what energy demand will be this year.

"OPEC revised its demand outlook higher for 2013, while the IEA revised its demand outlook lower for the same period," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets, adding that oil prices have been "hemmed in by divergent views on the demand outlook for 2013."

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, was up 6 cents at $117.94 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 1.3 cents to $3.048 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 0.6 cent to $3.298 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil rose 0.2 cent to $3.208 a gallon.

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