By The Associated PressNEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The price of oil rose above $95 a barrel on Thursday on positive reports about the U.S. economy. Benchmark oil gained $1.05 to $95.29 a barrel at midday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That follows a gain of 96 cents Wednesday. Strong reports on housing starts and unemployment claims made traders more optimistic about the U.S. economy. Builders started work on homes in December at the fastest pace since the summer of 2008, and the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week. Both reports could signal greater demand for fuel. Traders are waiting for China's growth data Friday to help assess the strength of the global economy. China will release fourth-quarter growth data for 2012 as well as overall GDP figures for the year. Meanwhile, Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 78 cents to $110.46 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. In other energy futures trading on Nymex: â¿¿ Wholesale gasoline was up 3 cents to $2.75 a gallon. â¿¿ Natural gas fell 2 cents to $3.42 per 1,000 cubic feet. â¿¿ Heating oil added 1 cent to $3.01 a gallon. ___ Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.