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China demand optimism sets oil on track for strong weekly gain

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Oil prices rose on Friday, set to gain more than 6% for the week, on solid signs of demand growth in top oil importer China and expectations of less aggressive interest rate rises in the United States.

Brent crude futures rose by 5 cents to $84.08 a barrel by 0746 GMT, off a session low of $83.50. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 13 cents to $78.52 a barrel after falling to $77.97 earlier in the session.

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Brent has jumped 6.7% so far this week and WTI is up 6.2%, recouping most of last week’s losses.

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Analysts said recent Chinese crude purchases and a pick-up in road traffic fueled confidence in a demand recovery in the world’s second-largest economy following the reopening of its borders and easing of COVID-19 curbs after protests last year.

“Given the focus on energy security, we anticipate that Chinese imports will continue to pick up, particularly as refinery runs ramp and stockpiling crude remains a strategic priority,” RBC commodity strategist Michael Tran told clients in a note.

In another encouraging sign, ANZ analysts said a congestion index covering the 15 Chinese cities with the largest number of vehicle registrations had risen 31% from a week earlier.

Oil prices have also been buoyed by a slide in the dollar to a nearly nine-month low, after data showed U.S. inflation fell for the first time in 2-1/2 years, reinforcing expectations that the Federal Reserve would slow the pace of rate hikes.

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A weaker greenback tends to boost demand for oil, as it makes the commodity cheaper for buyers holding other currencies.

However, some of the week’s gains are likely to fizzle out in Asian trade, said Vandana Hari, founder of oil market analysis provider Vanda Insights.

“Crude is in for a correction, even if a modest one …. The past two sessions were almost entirely driven by renewed Fed pivot hopes, which, going by the experience of the past quarter, tend to be a short-lived phenomenon,” Hari said. (Reporting by Mohi Narayan in New Delhi and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Clarence Fernandez)

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