The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- The price of oil climbed above $96 a barrel Tuesday after fresh U.S. economic data suggested the world's largest economy keeps recovering.
Benchmark crude for May delivery gained $1.53 to finish at a five-week high of $96.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Commerce Department said that orders for factory-produced durable goods -- items expected to last at least three years -- rose by 5.7 percent in February over the previous month. That beat consensus forecasts for a 3.7 percent increase after a 4.9 percent drop in January.
Also U.S. home prices rose 8.1 percent in January, the fastest annual rate since the peak of the housing boom in the summer of 2006.
Reports on February new-home sales and March consumer confidence weren't as strong. But the overall picture was of an improving U.S. economy.
Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, expects to see more positive economic numbers. That should boost stock markets, which in turn could support oil.
"We look for strong U.S. economic numbers to continue through the rest of this week with the associated equity gains keeping WTI (benchmark crude) supported at around the $95-96 region," he said in a note to clients.
The picture at the gas pump looks better as well. The average price for a gallon of gas fell a penny to $3.66. That's 12 cents cheaper than a month ago and 24 cents less than a year earlier, when the price of gas rose to $3.94 by April 5.
Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, rose $1.19 to end at $109.36 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
-- Wholesale gasoline rose 5 cents to finish at $3.11 a gallon.
-- Heating oil added less than a cent to end at $2.88 a gallon.
-- Natural gas advanced by 11 cents to finish at $3.98 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.
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