LONDON (AFP) – Crude oil prices advanced on Monday, as bitterly cold weather in Europe and the United States boosted expectations of rising heating fuel demand over the Christmas holiday period, analysts said.
Brent North Sea crude for delivery in February climbed 20 cents to 91.87 dollars a barrel in London trade.
New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, gained 29 cents to 88.31 dollars.
“Crude oil prices rose slightly higher … as freezing conditions in Europe and the US northeast increased the demand for heating oil,” said analyst Myrto Sokou at the Sucden brokerage in London.
“The oil market received further support amid renewed tensions in the Korean peninsula, as South Korea launched live-firing drills from a disputed island today.”
Thousands of stranded travellers spent the night in airports across Europe as more flights were cancelled Monday because of snow and ice, extending travel misery just days before Christmas.
After a weekend of disruption at major European hubs such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels, airports struggled to clear the backlog as passengers tried to reach their destinations in time for December 25.
Crude oil markets, meanwhile, were building on gains made on Friday as trader sentiment was buoyed by the strong US figures, analysts said.
“In general we’ve been seeing economic data from the US being better than expected, and this has helped to boost oil prices,” said Ong Yi Ling, investment analyst for Phillip Futures in Singapore.
The United States said Thursday that initial jobless claims fell to almost the lowest level of the year at 420,000 in the week ending December 11, down 3,000 from the previous week’s revised reading of 423,000.
The decline confounded analysts’ forecasts of a rise to 425,000, from the initially estimated reading of 421,000 for the week ending December 4.
US housing starts also leapt 3.9 percent from October to an annual rate of 555,000 units, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.
The numbers cheered crude markets as they indicated that the economy of the world’s biggest oil consumer was steadily improving.
Oil was also lifted after Congress approved late on Thursday the extension of a sweeping tax cuts and jobless benefits deal that analysts expect to boost US growth in 2011. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law shortly after markets closed on Friday.