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Oil prices rose above $99 a barrel Thursday amid signs of growing U.S. crude demand and concerns about global supply.
Benchmark crude rose 73 cents to $99.40 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price crude produced in many foreign countries and is an important feedstock for U.S. gasoline producers, rose 20 cents to $107.91 per barrel in London.
A series of positive reports in the U.S. suggested that the economy is improving. That has sent stock prices and oil prices higher this week. Crude prices are up for the fourth straight day.
Investors got a double-barrel of encouraging news Thursday, as the Labor Department said unemployment claims last week dropped to the lowest level in more than three and a half years, and a private report said leading economic indicators pointed to a strengthening economy.
On Tuesday, a report showed housing construction was picking up in the U.S. And on Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reported a dramatic drop in the nation's oil supplies last week.
Gasoline demand was down 2.6 percent from last year through the first nine months of the year, according to government data. Drivers cut back amid high pump prices and worries about the economy.
"That's an astonishing amount," said Andrew Lipow, an independent oil analyst. He expects gasoline demand to fall slightly next year, though the decline won't be as great if the economy improves.
Demand for oil and gas grows with the economy as shippers move more goods and consumers drive and fly more.
Oil prices are also being pushed higher by threats to global supplies. Rising tensions between the West and Iran over Iran's nuclear ambitions are raising fears that oil from the world's fourth biggest producer may be kept from reaching markets in the coming weeks.
Oil traders also are concerned about political instability in Kazakhstan, which exports about 1.3 million barrels of oil per day, about 1.5 percent of world demand. The Central Asian nation has been battling political protests that have resulted in more than a dozen deaths in the last month.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC had to shut a large field off the coast of Nigeria because of a leak.
Oil prices have spent much of the year near $100 per barrel. That has pushed the retail price of gasoline to its highest annual average ever, $3.52 per gallon. On Thursday national average pump prices rose a penny to $3.22 per gallon according to AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.
In other energy trading, heating oil was virtually unchanged at $2.1933 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose 1 cent to $2.6324 per gallon. Natural gas was little changed at $3.158 per 1,000 cubic feet.