(Reuters) - Brent crude futures held above $113 on Thursday, buoyed by hopes for a rebound in year-end economic growth in China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer, and with simmering tension in the Middle East providing additional support.
China's economy expanded 7.4 percent in the quarter to September from a year earlier. That was its slowest pace since the first quarter of 2009 and was in line with a Reuters forecast. But other data released on Thursday suggested that the worst may be over and that the world's No.2 economy will pick up in the final quarter.
Brent had gained 37 cents to $113.59 a barrel by 0635 GMT, after settling 78 cents lower at $113.22. U.S. oil rose 7 cents to $92.19, after ending 3 cents higher.
"While the overall GDP numbers were in line with expectations, retail sales, industrial output and other numbers are stronger if you look at the break down," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.
"I would expect a continuation of the momentum on the back of these numbers."
China's refinery throughput in September rose 7 percent from a year earlier to a record daily rate of 9.43 million barrels, after new refining capacity came on stream. Daily runs were around 6 percent, or 540,000 barrels-per-day (bpd), higher than the 8.89 million bpd in August.
Supply disruption concerns stemming from Iran's disputed nuclear program are also putting a floor under oil prices.
In another sign of Tehran defying international demands to curb its nuclear program, Western diplomats said Iran was believed to be increasing its uranium enrichment capacity at its Fordow plant buried deep underground.
That follows fresh sanctions by European Union governments imposed on major Iranian state companies in the oil and gas industry and tougher curbs on the central bank.
The United States and the European Union are putting pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, while Tehran says it needs the technology to generate electricity.
"The geopolitical worries in the Middle East are supporting prices," Le Brun said. "We will see prices surge if there is further escalation, but I hope the United States and Iran are able to resolve their differences without that."
Oil also got support from a surge in U.S. housing starts. Groundbreaking on new U.S. homes surged in September to its fastest in more than four years, signaling the housing sector's recovery is gaining traction.
WEIGHING ON PRICES
Yet gains were capped by data showing that crude stocks in the United States rose more than expected last week as imports grew. Inventory climbed by 2.86 million barrels in the week to October 12, the Energy Information Administration reported, against an increase of 1.7 million barrels expected by analysts.
Imports of crude rose by 126,000 bpd to 8.31 million bpd during the week. EIA data also showed that U.S. oil production last week reached 6.61 million bpd, the highest level since May 1995.
"Despite crude oil inventories increasing more than anticipated, the price barely changed in last night's session as buying was supported by encouraging housing data," said Miguel Audencial, a sales trader at CMC Markets.
"There have been a lot of concerns during the past few weeks about the future demand of oil, with the slowing rate of Chinese growth and ongoing concerns in Europe."
(Editing by Ed Davies)
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.
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