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Oil prices climb on positive US jobs data

Oil prices rose on Thursday following the release of positive US jobs data, helping to offset market concerns about weak crude demand, traders said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April gained 16 cents to $118.04 a barrel in late London deals.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for March jumped 60 cents to $97.61 a barrel.

New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits fell last week to well below the trend line, giving an indication that the US jobs market may be firming up, data revealed on Thursday.

Jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, fell to 341,000 in the week to February 9, compared with 368,000 the previous week.

The four-week moving average was 352,500, compared to the average of 371,250 in 2012.

"The message: the recent trend in employment growth is at least being maintained," said Jim O'Sullivan, of High Frequency economics.

Oil prices had fallen slightly earlier in the day.

"Brent has been unable to achieve the nine-month high of a good $119 per barrel it recorded last week," said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

"The price has been stopped in its tracks by the International Energy Agency's unexpected downward revision of its demand forecast."

The IEA, representing oil consumers, trimmed its world oil demand forecast for 2013 on Wednesday.

It said the marginal cut of 85,000 barrels a day was in line with the prospect for a slowdown forecast by the International Monetary Fund, which last month cut its world growth estimate for 2013 to 3.5 percent from 3.6 percent.

On Tuesday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised its estimates for global oil demand this year, citing signs of a recovery in the global economy.

OPEC, which accounts for more than a third of global oil supplies, expects 89.68 million barrels of oil to be sold a day, up from 89.55 million estimated a month ago.