Oil prices rise on China exports, lower dollar

Crude oil prices rallied Thursday, briefly reaching three-month highs, on strong Chinese export data and the lower US dollar.

Oil prices for US benchmark West Texas Intermediate futures for February delivery reached as high as $94.70, a level last seen in September, before settling 72 cents higher at $93.82 a barrel.

European benchmark Brent oil futures settled 13 cents higher at $111.89 a barrel.

The jump came after Chinese government data showed strong export results. 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.

China'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.

In December, exports and imports hit new single-month highs, rising 14.1 percent to $199.2 billion and six percent to $167.6 billion, respectively.

The results are the latest in a string of data in recent months that indicate that China, the world's second-biggest consumer of oil after the US, was regaining momentum, analysts said.

"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.

Oil prices were also boosted by the decision of the European Central Bank not to cut interest rates, which was coupled with a comment from ECB chief Mario Draghi that the group was "unanimous" in keeping interest rates at current levels.

Draghi's comments suggested interest-rate policy is off the table for the foreseeable future and helped push the dollar lower.

A weaker greenback can make dollar-priced crude cheaper for buyers using rival currencies, in turn stimulating oil demand.

The European single currency jumped to a one-week high at $1.3217 after the ECB's move Thursday.

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