SINGAPORE: Brent crude futures held above $111 per barrel on Monday, supported by signs that the world's biggest economies are on a steady recovery path, but inventory data showing weak fuel demand in the United States curbed gains.
US employers kept up an even pace of hiring and the country's vast services sector expanded briskly, reports on Friday showed. Coupled with earlier data showing expansion in the manufacturing sector in the United States and China, this reinforced expectations for buoyant oil demand this year.
Front month Brent futures rose 13 cents to $111.44 per barrel by 0306 GMT, after rising 0.6 percent last week.
US crude slipped 5 cents to $93.04 per barrel. It added 2.5 percent last week after US lawmakers reached a last minute agreement to avert a so-called "fiscal cliff", or tax hikes and spending cuts that had threatened economic growth.
"Oil markets are still tracking the positive news from the US with the fiscal cliff somewhat out of the way for now," said Natalie Rampono, senior commodity strategist at ANZ.
"China looks to be improving," she added. "We are expecting an improvement in oil demand from China as well."
ANZ expects Brent to end the first quarter at $118 per barrel and US crude at $96 per barrel.
Oil markets took a cue from US stocks, which ended at a five-year high on Friday, boosted by the US fiscal deal and data showing steady hiring by employers, as well as brisk activity in its key services sector.
Manufacturing in top energy consumers US and China grew in December, suggesting oil demand may remain well supported.
Global markets will now be watching the US Federal Reserve's stance on monetary easing, with top Fed officials and some US economists suggesting the central bank might halt its asset purchases this year, she added.
"The discussion among Fed officials of when to scale back or halt asset purchases led investors to start pricing in an earlier exit for the Fed," Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economists said in a report, adding that the bank expected quantitative easing to continue into 2014.
This week's focus will also be on the European Central Bank and its moves to help pull the crisis-ridden region out of recession.
Center>Copyright Reuters, 2013