Crude oil edges above $99 a barrel, adding to recent gains on optimism about US economy

The price of oil inched up above $99 a barrel Tuesday as good signs about the U.S. economy drive up expectations of stronger demand for energy.

Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery rose 31 cents to close at $99.22 in a shortened session on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The U.S. government reported that orders for long-lasting manufactured products rose 3.5 per cent in November, more than economists expected. Core capital goods, a category that tracks business investment, jumped 4.5 per cent, the biggest gain since January.

Oil prices are up around 7 per cent so far in December and on track to finish the year with a gain. Hopes over the U.S. economy have been behind the rise — last week figures showed that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 4.1 per cent growth in the third quarter, ahead of previous expectations.

Traders are also on the lookout for news on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ending Dec. 20 are expected to show a draw of 2.3 million barrels in crude oil stocks and a build of 2.2 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Friday, two days later than usual because of the Christmas holiday.

At the gas pump, the average price for a gallon of gasoline rose 1 cent to $3.26. That’s 4 cents higher than a year ago and a penny more expensive than at this time last year.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 34 cents to $111.90 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline gained 4 cents to $2.81 a gallon.

— Heating oil advanced 2 cents to $3.08 a gallon

— Natural gas fell 5 cents to $4.42 per 1,000 cubic feet.