By SANDY SHORE, Associated Press
Encouraging news about business confidence in Germany helped drive oil prices higher Friday. It was a respite from persistent worries about weaker energy demand as Europe's debt crisis still hangs in the air.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose 78 cents to finish at $103.05 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude added 76 cents to end at $118.76 in London.
In Germany, the biggest economy in the European Union, a key survey found that business confidence improved in April from March, the sixth straight month it rose. The survey showed confidence was up not only for current conditions, but for the next six months as well.
Oil prices also rose along with U.S. stock markets amid strong earnings profits from several major corporations. The Dow Jones industrial average was up almost 1 percent in afternoon trading. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were higher as well.
Benchmark oil has stayed in a range between $101 and $105 per barrel this month as investors assessed global economic growth and looked for fresh news about the standoff between Iran and Western countries over Iran's nuclear program. They're also concerned about Europe's financial crisis and a slowdown in China's economy.
Talks between Iran and the West are scheduled to resume next month. The U.S., Europe and other countries think that Iran may be working on a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied the charge.
Iran exports more than 2 million barrels of oil each day. The European Union and the U.S. have imposed sanctions that make it tougher for Iran to sell its oil. In response Iran stopped selling oil to Britain, France, Greece and Spain, although those countries weren't getting much Iranian oil to begin with.
Iran's oil minister said his country might cut sales to more European countries if the 27-nation bloc failed to show more flexibility toward his country ahead of May's meetings.
In other trading, heating oil rose a little more than 1 cent to finish at $3.14 per gallon, gasoline futures fell about a cent to end at $3.14 per gallon and natural gas rose 2 cents to finish at $1.93 per 1,000 cubic feet.
At the pump, retail gasoline prices fell by a penny on Friday to a national average of $3.88 for a gallon of regular, according to AAA, Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. Prices have been drifting lower in the past week, and the average is now just 4 cents higher than a year ago.
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