The price of oil rose Thursday on positive economic news from the U.S. and China.

Benchmark oil gained 72 cents to $95.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in morning trading.

There are signs that oil demand is picking up in China. HSBC's (NYSE:HSBC) monthly purchasing managers' index, which gauges manufacturing activity in China, rose for the fifth consecutive month in January to 51.9 from December's 51.5. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. More manufacturing means more energy consumption, which should push oil prices higher.

In the U.S., the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in five years, evidence that employers are cutting fewer jobs and may step up hiring.

Drivers doing the daily commute to work saw pump prices rise slightly overnight to an average of $3.32 a gallon. That's up 3 cents from a week ago.

Traders will be watching the latest report this morning from the Energy Department on U.S. oil supplies. Analysts surveyed by Platts expect supplies rose by 2 million barrels last week.

On Wednesday, oil dropped by $1.45 per barrel after crude shipments through the Seaway pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast had to be cut to less than half because of limited capacity.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 23 cents to $112.57 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline lost 1 cent to $2.84 per gallon.
  • Natural gas rose 1 cent to $3.56 per 1,000 cubic feet.
  • Heating oil was flat at $3.06 a gallon.

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