Oil above $105 amid mixed global growth signs

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By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices hovered above $105 a barrel Friday in Asia amid mixed signs about the strength of the global economy and crude demand.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 23 cents to $105.58 at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.92 to settle at $105.35 per barrel in New York on Thursday.

Brent crude for May delivery was up 17 cents at $123.31 per barrel in London.

Disappointing industrial production figures out of China, Germany and France on Thursday suggested economic growth in Asia and Europe may slow more than previously expected. However, the U.S. reported the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to a four-year low last week, reinforcing recent data that suggests the world's biggest economy is improving.

Crude has hovered between $105 and $110 for the last month, up from $75 in October, amid trader worries that a military strike by Israel or the U.S. on Iran's nuclear facilities could disrupt global supplies.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, sought to quell investor concerns by saying earlier this week that it's prepared to quickly boost crude output by 25 percent if necessary.

Some analysts expect growing crude demand in emerging countries and limited supplies will keep oil prices from falling despite slowing global economic growth.

"With the market characterized by extremely low inventories and stretched spare capacity, oil prices are to likely to remain high," Barclays Capital said in a report. "Given strong emerging market demand and weak non-OPEC supply, the oil price is now likely to be sustained at considerably above $100 per barrel in the long term."

In other energy trading, heating oil was down 0.9 cents at $3.20 per gallon and gasoline futures slid 1.1 cents at $3.34 per gallon. Natural gas fell 0.2 cents at $2.27 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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