Oil rises on China trade, natural gas gains

NEW YORK -The price of oil rose Thursday, propelled by a rebound in China's trade growth.

Benchmark oil gained 72 cents to finish at $93.82 a barrel in New York. It has now risen more than 9 percent in the past four weeks.

Meanwhile, natural gas prices reversed course, rising 8 cents, or 2.5 percent, to end at $3.19 per 1,000 cubic feet. Futures fell 3.3 percent Wednesday.

Data released Thursday showed China's export growth in December more than quadrupled from the previous month's level to 14 percent. Imports rose 6 percent, after failing to grow at all in November, in a sign of increasing domestic demand.

Analysts also pointed to an 8 percent year-on-year rise in China's imports of crude oil in December and a 6.8 percent increase for all of 2012. The data was a boost for energy prices, since a pickup in economic activity in the world's second-largest economy could boost demand for oil.

"It does signal that China's oil demand could make a major rebound and exceed expectations in the first quarter," Phil Flynn, analyst for the Price Futures Group, wrote in a report.

In the U.S. a second day of gains in the stock market helped support energy prices, with major indexes rising close to 1 percent.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 13 cents to finish at $111.per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

The gain in natural gas followed a report from the government showing supplies of the fuel fell more than expected last week. Natural gas in storage shrank by 201 billion cubic feet to 3.316 trillion cubic feet for the week ended Jan. 4.

In other energy futures trading in New York:— Wholesale gasoline added 1 cent to end at $2.79 a gallon.— Heating oil fell 2 cents to finish at $3.05 a gallon.—

Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.
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