WTI Trades Near Six-Week High on China Crude Import Gain

West Texas Intermediate traded near the highest in almost six weeks as China’s net crude imports rebounded and the U.S. jobless rate fell, signaling recovery in the world’s two biggest oil consumers.

Crude in New York extended gains to increase for a seventh day after advancing 0.3 percent on Dec. 6. China’s net crude imports rose 19 percent to 5.73 million barrels a day last month, climbing from the lowest level in 14 months, data from the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs showed yesterday. U.S. unemployment dropped to 7 percent in November, the lowest rate in five years, according to Labor Department figures. Refinery runs in the U.S. increased in late November, data from the Energy Department showed last week.

“U.S. crude is starting to get more bids as refineries are starting and there are not-that-large stock builds in Cushing,” the Oklahoma delivery point for WTI, Torbjoern Kjus, a senior oil analyst at DNB ASA, said by telephone from Oslo. “I expect U.S. prices to stay solid and the Brent price to head lower,” Kjus said, noting rising U.S. refinery use as fuel processors draw down inventories and boost refined exports.

WTI for January delivery was at $97.87 a barrel, up 22 cents, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 10:32 a.m. London time. The contract rose 27 cents to $97.65 on Dec. 6, the highest close since Oct. 29. The volume of all futures traded was about 59 percent below the 100-day average.

Brent for January settlement was down 32 cents at $111.29 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark crude was at a premium of $13.44 to WTI, from $13.96 on Dec. 6.

Bullish Bets

Hedge funds boosted bullish bets on crude as economic growth accelerated in the U.S. and China. Money managers increased net-long positions, or wagers on rising prices for WTI, by 7.8 percent in the week ended Dec. 3, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. It was the biggest jump since July 23.

U.S. employers added 203,000 workers to non-farm payrolls last month, according to Labor Department data on Dec. 6. It was more than the 185,000 increase predicted in a Bloomberg News survey. China’s trade surplus last month swelled to $33.8 billion, the largest in more than four years as exports exceeded estimates, figures from the General Administration of Customs showed yesterday.

U.S. Demand

The U.S. will account for about 21 percent of global oil demand this year, compared with 11 percent for China, the second-largest consumer, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based adviser to developed nations.

U.S refinery runs rose by 555,000 barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 29, according to Energy Department data released Dec. 4. Refineries operated at 92.4 percent of capacity, the most since September. Utilization rates usually pick up in December after maintenance is performed during the lull in fuel demand between the summer driving season and the winter heating period.

“Economic news in the U.S. last week was quite good, so that’s boosting prices,” Robin Mills, the head of consulting at Manaar Energy Consulting and Project Management in Dubai, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

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