Oil rises to near $80 as traders eye rising stocks

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SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices inched to near $80 a barrel Thursday in Asia as rising stock markets ahead of fourth quarter earnings cheered crude investors.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 27 cents to $79.92 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the contract gave up $1.14 to settle at $79.65.

All major Asian stock indexes gained Thursday after the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 percent Wednesday. Companies began reporting fourth quarter earnings this week with chipmaker Intel Corp. is expected to post results Thursday and banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Friday.

Oil investors often look to stock markets as a measure of overall investor sentiment about the economy.

Oil has fallen from near $84 a barrel earlier this week on signs of weak U.S. crude demand. The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that U.S. oil inventories grew more than expected last week, despite a cold weather spell that analysts expected to boost demand for oil products such as heating oil.

“From virtually any perspective, the weekly EIA stats looked bearish,” Galena, Illinois-based Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report. “Further price slippage toward the $75 area would appear likely.”

In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil rose 0.79 cents to $2.10 a gallon and gasoline rose 0.3 cents to $2.06 a gallon. Natural gas futures gained 2.7 cents to $5.76.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery rose 28 cents to $78.59 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.