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Oil prices pause after strong rally

Oil prices closed slightly lower Friday, marking a pause after weeks of gains driven by a brighter outlook on global energy demand.

New York's benchmark crude oil contract, West West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, settled at $95.88 a barrel, down seven cents from Thursday.

In London trade, Brent crude oil for March finished unchanged from Thursday at $113.28 a barrel.

After steadily rising for more than one month, the market took a breather and, despite some nudges upward, put in a week little changed from the previous week, said Bill Baruch of iiTrader.

Baruch said that traders were consolidating gains in the context of a more encouraging outlook for the global economy.

"We've seen some good economic data driving the course of the week that resulted in the market hoping in a boost in demand," said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates.

In addition to news Thursday of the sharpest growth in Chinese manufacturing in two years, the United States, the world's biggest oil consumer, saw new jobless claims drop to a five-year low.

On Friday, data showing German business confidence had struck the highest level in seven months stoked hopes for better conditions in the troubled eurozone's biggest economy.

The upbeat Ifo institute's survey bolstered the euro against the dollar.

The US unit has weakened in recent days, making dollar-priced crude oil more attractive to buyers using weaker currencies.