By PAMELA SAMPSON
2013-01-18 12:28 PM
Benchmark oil for February delivery was up 2 cents to $95.51 per barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.25 to finish at $95.49 a barrel. That was the highest close for crude on the Nymex since Sept. 17 and a result of the positive economic reports out of the U.S.
China's economy grew 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from the previous quarter's 7.4 percent. In December, retail sales growth accelerated to 15.2 percent over a year earlier, up from the previous month's 14.9 percent, the National Bureau of Statistics reported. Factory output growth rose to 10.3 percent from November's 10.1 percent.
Data showing improvement in China, the world's No. 2 economy, suggests increased energy demand, a key driver of oil prices.
However, Caroline Bain, commodities analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit, said that demand in 2013 could be affected "as the risk of more protracted debate over fiscal policy, which would sap sentiment, could emerge again later in the year" in among U.S. leaders in Washington.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 9 cents to $111.19 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
_ Wholesale gasoline fell 0.1 cent to $2.781 a gallon.
_ Natural gas fell 0.4 cents to $3.498 per 1,000 cubic feet.
_ Heating oil was nearly unchanged at $3.014 a gallon.