By PABLO GORONDIThe price of oil edged closer to $94 a barrel Tuesday, reflecting optimism on European stock markets despite conflicting economic data. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for February delivery was up 52 cents to $93.71 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 10 cents to finish at $93.19 a barrel on Monday. Most European stock market indexes were up slightly, even as unemployment in the countries using the euro currency rose to 11.8 percent in December, an all-time high. At the same time, business and consumer sentiment in the eurozone was also higher in the last month of 2012, while retail sales in the region grew by 0.1 percent in November, less than what analysts had been expecting. "The market seems to be in a holding pattern, with traders waiting for a clarification as to where oil prices are headed next," said a report from JBC Energy in Vienna. "The upcoming trade data from China as well as the ECB meeting on Thursday are the next big items on the agenda that could bring some movement back to the market." Investors will also be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products. Data for the week ending Jan. 4 is expected to show builds of 1.5 million barrels in crude oil stocks and 2.6 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 â¿¿ the market benchmark â¿¿ will be out on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, was up $1.02 to $112.42 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:â¿¿ Wholesale gasoline added 2.61 cents to $2.8035 a gallon. â¿¿ Heating oil rose 4.05 cents to $3.0726 a gallon. â¿¿ Natural gas dropped 3.4 cents to $3.232 per 1,000 cubic feet. ___ Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.