Oil rises near $86 on signs of stronger U.S. economy

SINGAPORE  — Oil prices rose to near $86 a barrel Friday in Asia after robust U.S. retail sales in March pointed to growing consumer demand in the world's biggest energy market.

Benchmark crude for May delivery was up 32 cents to $85.71 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 49 cents to settle at $85.39 on Thursday.

Discounter Target Corp., department store Macy's Inc., clothier Gap Inc. and Victoria's Secret parent Limited Brands Inc. posted Thursday double-digit increases in March sales that beat Wall Street analysts' expectations.

Overall, sales in stores open at least a year rose 9 percent in March, based on an index of 31 retailers compiled by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Oil had bounced between $69 and $84 for about nine months before spurting to above $87 earlier this week.


"The strong retail sales are a part of the positive economic news coming out of the U.S. over the last few weeks," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with consultancy Purvin & Gertz in Singapore. "That's what's been supporting the break out in oil prices."

Crude was also boosted by investor expectations that China might allow its currency to rise, which would make dollar-based commodities such as oil cheaper for investors with yuan and might increase demand.

In other Nymex trading in May contracts, heating oil added 1.11 cent to $2.2393 a gallon, and gasoline gained 0.62 cent to $2.3045 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.3 cents to $3.922 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was up 39 cents at $85.20 on the ICE futures exchange.

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