Oil up in Asia on Chinese trade data

Oil prices climbed in Asia on Thursday after a surge in China's trade surplus sparked hopes the world's second largest economy and biggest energy user was firing up again.

The trade figures are the latest in a string of data in recent months that indicate China has finally turned a corner after seven straight months of slowing growth, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, gained 41 cents to $93.51 a barrel in afternoon trade and Brent North Sea crude for February rose 21 cents to $111.97.

"After losing altitude last year, Asia's economic engine, led by China, has fired up again," global banking giant HSBC said in a market commentary.

China's trade surplus soared 48.1 percent to $231.1 billion in 2012, though total trade volume grew at a much slower pace in the face of economic weakness at home and abroad, official data showed Thursday.

The country's exports rose 7.9 percent to $2.05 trillion from the year before, while imports increased 4.3 percent to $1.82 trillion, the national customs bureau said.

China's trade volume, or the total of exports and imports, grew 6.2 percent in 2012, well below the government target of about 10 percent.

"We are seeing assets pick up across the board... after encouraging data with better-than-expected trade numbers from China," said Jason Hughes, the head of premium client management at IG Markets in Singapore.

A rally in US equities, boosted by better-than-expected earnings of aluminum giant Alcoa, also supported oil prices, said Victor Shum, managing director of energy consultancy IHS Purvin and Gertz.

US stocks reversed two days of losses to close higher Wednesday after Alcoa reported earnings of $242 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, compared with a year-earlier loss of $191 million.

The company, considered an economic bellwether because of its role in industrial production, also stayed in the black for the full year, despite aluminum prices falling 12 percent.

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