Oil higher as traders wait on Bernanke, data

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World oil prices gained ground on Thursday ahead of fresh US data and a crucial speech by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, analysts said.

Brent North Sea crude for October delivery firmed 54 cents to $110.69 a barrel in early afternoon London deals.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for October, gained 53 cents to $85.69.

"Investors will be keeping an eye on the US weekly jobless claims figures for some direction for today," said Sucden analyst Myrto Sokou.

"The main focus continues to be on Bernanke's speech on Friday with investors eyeing the prospect that the Fed will release a new stimulus plan to boost US economic growth."

Traders are also on tenterhooks before Friday's publication of the latest estimates of second-quarter economic growth in the United States, the world's biggest consumer of oil.

The market was also underpinned by ongoing unrest in Libya with analysts saying the North African country may take longer than expected to get its crude production facilities back to normal.

"Over the coming week, crude markets will be looking for clearer information on the condition of the Libyan oil and gas infrastructure," said Sanjeev Gupta, who heads Ernst & Young's Asia-Pacific oil and gas practice.

Libya's rebels sought to deliver a knockout punch Thursday to the remnants of Moamer Kadhafi's forces and to flush out the elusive strongman, dead or alive.

Oil prices briefly shot higher on Wednesday after the release of data showing that US durable goods orders -- a reflection of the country's manufacturing sector -- rebounded in July.

Separately, official data showed that US crude inventories fell by 2.2 million barrels last week, in a sign of healthier US energy demand.

The rally lost steam, however, in hesitant trade before a speech by Bernanke which will be scrutinized for signs of whether he will support new stimulus measures to boost the flagging US economy.

© 2011 AFP

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