NEW YORK (AP) -- The price of oil climbed above $97 a barrel as home prices in the U.S. accelerated and stock markets resumed their rise toward record levels.

Benchmark oil for March delivery rose $1, or 1 percent, to $97.44 a barrel around midday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil hasn't closed above $97 in New York since Sept. 14.

Oil is now up more than $5 a barrel this year, and U.S. drivers may have noticed gas prices creeping higher. The average price for a gallon of gas Tuesday was $3.36, up 5 cents in the past week.

Signs of improvement in the global economy are driving the increase in oil prices.

A report Tuesday showed U.S. home prices in November had the biggest year-over-year increase in six years. That added to evidence showing that the U.S. housing market is recovering and outweighed a separate report indicating that higher taxes and an uncertain economic picture are sapping consumers' confidence.

Those were the latest reports in a big week for U.S. economic indicators. The government will also this week release the latest numbers on weekly jobless claims, January unemployment and fourth-quarter growth. And the Federal Reserve's policy committee is holding a two-day meeting that concludes on Wednesday.

U.S. stocks are approaching record levels after a January rally that has pushed the Dow Jones industrial average 6.2 percent higher this month. And the Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 5.3 percent, its highest level since December 2007.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 57 cents to $114.05 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to $2.96 per gallon.
  • Natural gas lost 6 cents to $3.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.
  • Heating oil gained 3 cents to $3.09 a gallon.

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