TOKYO Jan 31 U.S. crude futures rose for a fourth day on Thursday to above $98 a barrel, holding near a four-and-a-half month high hit a day earlier, supported by better-than-expected European economic data that improved the outlook for global fuel demand.
* NYMEX crude for March delivery was up 7 cents at $98.01 a barrel by 2355 GMT, after settling up 37 cents at $97.94 on Wednesday.
The contract hit an intraday high of $98.24 on Wednesday, the highest since $99.52 hit on Sept. 17.
* London Brent crude for March delivery had not been traded yet, after settling up 54 cents at $114.90. The contract rose as high as $115.24 on Wednesday, the highest since Oct. 16.
* Euro zone economic sentiment improved more than expected across all sectors in January, rising for the third month in a row in a sign that the region's economy could be emerging from a low point in the fourth quarter of 2012.
* Wednesday's gains were pared after data showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter, suffering its first decline since the 2007-09 recession as businesses scaled back on restocking and government spending plunged.
* U.S. crude oil inventories jumped by 5.95 million barrels in the week to Jan. 25, the U.S. government said. Analysts had forecast a 2.6-million-barrel crude build.
Gasoline inventories fell by 956,000 barrels during the week, against forecasts for a 100,000 barrel draw. Distillate stockpiles were off by 2.3 million barrels, compared with expectations for a 1.1-million-barrel decline.
* Front-month U.S. gasoline futures shot up more than 2 percent on Wednesday to top $3 a gallon for the first time since late September as the market was bolstered by tight supplies ahead of the February contract's expiry on Thursday.
* Supply risks from the Middle East also supported oil prices. Israeli forces attacked a convoy suspected to include a truck carrying weapons on the Syria-Lebanon border on Wednesday, sources told Reuters.
* U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve said in its latest statement that economic growth had stalled but indicated the pullback was likely temporary.
* The euro held near a 14-month peak against the dollar and a 2-1/2 year high versus the yen on Thursday, having risen solidly as investors expect central banks in both the United States and Japan to keep an aggressive easing stance.
* The following data is expected on Thursday: (Time in GMT)
- 1230 U.S. Challenger layoffs Jan
- 1330 U.S. Personal consumption, income Dec
- 1330 U.S. Initial jobless claims
- 1445 U.S. Chicago PMI Jan (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Richard Pullin)
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