Oil prices nudged slightly above $96 a barrel on Friday after China reported better-than-expected monthly trade data, a sign that its economic recovery is gaining traction.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for March delivery was up 26 cents to $96.09 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 European Union 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.
"The pattern of recent days thus remains unbroken, with market players responding to falling prices by taking the opportunity to buy," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "China's sound import data are also a support for oil."
China's trade growth surged in January. Exports soared 25 percent from a year earlier and import growth rocketed to 28 percent.
Analysts said the year-on-year data could be distorted because the Lunar New Year holidays 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 90 cents to $118.14 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
-- Wholesale gasoline rose 2.02 cents to $3.0201 a gallon.
-- Natural gas added 0.6 cent to $3.291 per 1,000 cubic feet.
-- Heating oil gained 3.81 cents to $3.2376 a gallon.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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