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Crude oil $77.15 a barrel

Crude oil $77.15 a barrel
Crude for February delivery recently traded 48 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $77.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Crude for February delivery recently traded 48 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $77.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery recently traded 48 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $77.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange traded 48 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $75.84 a barrel.

"A steady S&P 500 and some modest weakness in the U.S. dollar, along with some follow-through buying after Wednesday's Department of Energy (inventory) report is helping maintain some minor gains," Tim Evans, analyst with Citi Futures Perspective in New York said in a note.

Equity markets opened higher in New York with the Dow Jones Industrial Average last trading 51 points higher at 10517, after data from the U.S. Labor Department showed a decline in the number of workers collecting unemployment. Weekly jobless claims fell by 28,000 last week, exceeding economists' projections of a 10,000 drop.

The dollar was weaker against the euro as concerns about debt levels in Europe were eased by a new Greek deficit-reduction planned, which also underpinned some of the rise in oil prices.

But "the connection to the dollar is waning a bit," said Tom Bentz, analyst and trader with BNP Paribas in New York, noting its relationship "goes in spurts."

Traders were also still mulling over the sharp draw in U.S. oil inventories reported Wednesday, which caused oil prices to jump to a three-week high.

Crude stocks dipped 4.8 million barrels last week, gasoline inventories fell by 900,000 barrels and distillate stocks, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, declined 3 million barrels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.

With crude stocks now near their lowest levels for the year, this offered some optimism that the big stock overhang is finally starting to clear.

But some analysts were cautious about reading too much into the crude stock draw. "Much of this decline is seasonal and may have also related to recent weather-related shipping delays into the Houston region," Jim Ritterbusch, of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill. said in a note to clients.

The draws also weren't representative of a pickup in demand, with the Energy Information Administration showing that total products supplied--a proxy for demand--over the past four weeks averaged 18.9 million barrels a day, down 1.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

On the supply side, oil exports from northern Iraq resumed Thursday, the oil ministry said. This was after a temporary halt due to the weekend sabotage of the pipeline at the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The pipeline usually transports 420,000 to 450,000 barrels of oil per day.

Floor trading will close early today on the Nymex, at 1:30 p.m. EST, due to the holiday weekend while electronic trading on Globex will close at 1:45 p.m. EST.

Front-month January reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, recently traded 1.64 cents, or 0.8%, higher at $1.9830 a gallon. January heating oil recently traded 1.63 points, or 0.8%, higher at $2.0281 a gallon.


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