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Oil prices rise to near US$100

Oil prices climbed to near $100 a barrel Thursday on stronger jobs and housing data in the United States.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude added 29 cents to end the day at US$99.65 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, which is used to price oil varieties imported by U.S. refineries, increased by 45 cents to finish at US$108.01 in London.

Oil rose late in the day after the government reported that claims for jobless benefits fell to a four-week average of 375,000. That's the lowest level in three and a half years.

The National Association of Realtors also reported that contracts to buy U.S. homes rose last month to the highest level in a year and a half.

Both reports pointed to stronger economic growth as 2011 comes to a close and that could lead to rising energy demand in 2012.

So far, however, U.S. petroleum demand remains relatively weak when compared with a year ago. The Energy Information Administration said Thursday that oil demand in the United States has dropped by 7.8 per cent from the same time last year and gasoline demand has declined by 5.6 per cent.

U.S. oil supplies also rose by 3.9 million barrels last week. That was a surprise for analysts, who expected supplies to shrink, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

In a separate report, the EIA said that U.S. natural gas supplies fell less than expected last week.

Natural gas prices already have tumbled by 17 per cent this month as a lack of snowfall and unusually balmy temperatures across parts of the United States cut into heating demand. After the government supply report was released, prices fell by another 9.4 cents, or three per cent, to end at US$3.027 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose by 2.41 cents to finish at US$2.9175 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), and gasoline futures added 2.88 cents to finish at US$2.6801 a gallon.

(TSX:ECA), (TSX:IMO), (TSX:SU), (TSX:HSE), (NYSE:BP), (NYSE:COP), (NYSE:XOM), (NYSE:CVX), (TSX:CNQ), (TSX:TLM), (TSX:COS.UN), (TSX:CVE)

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