(Reuters) - Brent crude hovered around $108.50 a barrel on Thursday as investors focused on concerns that storm Sandy's rampage across the U.S. East Coast could reduce fuel demand, although data pointing to recovery in China offered some support.
Industrial activity in China improved in October, confirming a trend toward recovering growth, though the recovery remains sluggish.
Investors also kept to the sidelines on an uncertain political outlook in the world's two largest oil consumers as Americans head to the polls and new top Chinese leaders take over.
Oil prices could continue trading sideways ahead of the U.S. elections just six days away, analysts said.
Brent crude for December delivery had risen 6 cents to $108.76 a barrel by 0730 GMT. The front-month contract slipped for a second straight month in October on ample crude supply and worries about lower fuel demand as the global economy slows.
U.S. crude for December delivery was at $86.35 a barrel, up 12 cents.
"China's PMI is generally in line with expectations and the market has priced it in," said Natalie Rampono, a commodity strategist at ANZ.
"A lot of attention is dedicated to the United States after Sandy came through. The Northeast is a populated area, and with roads and infrastructure down, we're probably going to see less driving and gasoline use."
U.S. gasoline futures for December rose 0.2 percent to $2.6355 a gallon after strong gains on Wednesday as spotty electrical power and damage by flooding stymied the recovery of two New Jersey refineries.
Phillips 66 (PSX.N) confirmed it had restored power to its 238,000-barrel-per-day Bayway refinery in New Jersey, but officials gave no damage assessment or timeline for resuming output. Sources expect the plant to restart operations next week at the earliest.
Yet the destruction wrought by Sandy affected millions of people across the eastern United States and could dampen fuel demand just as the world's largest economy was showing signs of recovery, analysts said.
U.S. oil demand in August was slightly stronger than estimated, but still down nearly 1 percent from a year ago, the U.S. government said.
Investors will scour weekly oil inventory statistics from the Energy Information Administration later on Thursday after industry data showed a rise of 2.1 million barrels in crude stockpiles last week.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was also keeping the global market well supplied.
OPEC oil output has risen slightly in October as extra supplies from Iraq, Angola and Libya have offset disruptions in Nigeria and a further decline in Iran to its lowest in two decades, a Reuters survey found on Wednesday.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Joseph Radford)Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.
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