Oil holds above $113 ahead of U.S., China data

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Brent crude oil held above $113 on Tuesday as traders awaited data to gauge the strength of the economies of the United States and China, the world's largest oil consumers.

Sentiment was boosted on Monday after business spending data from the United States helped reinforce the belief that a recovery was taking root.

Adding to the positive mood on Tuesday, a poll by market research group GfK showed German consumer morale rose for the first time in four months.

Brent crude was down 11 cents at $113.37 a barrel by 1308 GMT, while U.S. crude gained 13 cents to $96.57.

"Growth and recovery news in the United States and Europe are on the positive side this morning. We haven't seen an impact on the crude market so far," said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodity analyst at SEB in Oslo. "The sentiment and the technical analysis are still clearly bullish."

Markets were awaiting the outcome of a two-day Federal Reserve policy meeting as well as first estimates for fourth-quarter gross domestic production (GDP) in the United States on Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve has said it expects to keep short-term interest rates exceptionally low to help support the economy.

Official data on China's growth outlook due Friday will also be closely watched.

But following gains that took Brent prices to their highest level in three months last week, traders said some decline could occur in the coming days.

"We are gradually seeing a small retracement... In the absence of new bullish news, prices could slip a little bit," Christopher Bellew, a trader at Jefferies Bache, said.

MIDDLE EAST TENSIONS

Persistent tension in the Middle East and Africa also supported oil.

Iran said on Monday it had launched a monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Also on Monday, suspected Islamist militants attacked an oil pipeline in northern Algeria, killing two guards and wounding seven other people, a security source told Reuters.

In Egypt, the head of the military warned political conflict could lead to the collapse of the state and said protecting the Suez Canal was one of the main objectives of the army deployment to cities shaken by violence.

But, OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah al-Badri said the world oil market should remain well supplied in 2013 and that the OPEC does not need to trim back its oil output.

Oil prices continued to be underpinned by the closure of Hess Corp's New Jersey refinery, news of which boosted U.S. gasoline futures by more than 2 percent on Monday.

The loss of the plant, the latest in the region to fall victim to poor profits, tightened the supply outlook for the U.S. northeast, which is likely to have to rely more on imports and supplies from the Gulf Coast, according to analysts.

Traders were now eyeing data on U.S. crude and oil products stockpiles for clues on demand.

A Reuters survey, taken ahead of weekly inventory reports from the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, forecast crude stocks had risen by 2.6 million barrels on average for the week ended Jan. 25.

Gasoline inventories were forecast to have increased by an average 100,000 barrels for the week. (Additional reporting by Jessica Jaganathan,; Editing by Anthony Barker)



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