) -- Oil held on to much of its early gains and settled near $74 a barrel after surging to a 2009 high earlier today.

Light, sweet crude for October delivery added 98 cents to settle at $73.89 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday. Earlier highs found the black stuff topping $74.

Friday morning,

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a cautious though confident assessment of the economy, saying that conditions appear to be "leveling out."

After those remarks hit the wires, the front-month contract topped earlier highs, hitting $74.72 a barrel. That marks its highest price since late October.

Earlier in the session, encouraging data from the euro zone helped push the euro higher against the dollar. In recent hours, the euro has come down from its highs against the buck, though it still remains up on the day. A slumping greenback has helped boost dollar-denominated commodities like crude at various points in recent months.

In stock news, better-than-expected housing-sector data buoyed investors' appetite for risk and sent equities higher Friday. Earlier, the National Association of Realtors said that

existing home sales surged by a record 7.2% in July.

Shares among the oil majors were tracking up along with the rest of the market. Late in Friday's session,

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report



(CVX) - Get Report

, and


(COP) - Get Report

added 1.8%, 1.7% and 1.4%, respectively.

Marathon Oil

(MRO) - Get Report

was rising 2.6%, while American depositary shares for


(BP) - Get Report

were up 2.4% in afternoon trading.

Among the servicers,


(SLB) - Get Report

was up $2.24 at $56.04, and

BJ Services


was changing hands at $15.30, gaining 70 cents on the day.

-- Reported by Sung Moss in New York

Copyright 2009 Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.