BANGKOK -- The price of oil topped $96 per barrel Friday despite ample stockpiles of crude amid signs of growth in the world's two largest economies.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 31 cents to $96.26 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 72 cents to finish at $95.95 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
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Recent optimism about improving economies in the U.S. and China has helped support an upswing in oil prices. The U.S. housing and jobs markets have shown improvement, while China's manufacturing output has been gaining steam.
However, Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said that "prices could slip back" if crude inventories continue to rise. The Energy Information Administration said Thursday that U.S. oil supplies rose by 2.8 million barrels last week, more than analysts expected. That pushed oil stockpiles to 363.1 million barrels, up 8.5 percent from year-ago levels.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 4 cents to $113.32 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Hewson said the price of Brent is "stuck firmly in a dead zone of inactivity, but near its recent range highs."
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
-- Wholesale gasoline fell 0.4 cent to $2.873 per gallon.
-- Natural gas rose 3.1 cents to $3.477 per 1,000 cubic feet.
-- Heating oil dropped 0.1 cent to $3.076 a gallon.