* China oil imports up in November
* Chinese Nov. refinery throughput up 9.1 pct from year ago
* Political uncertainty in Italy limits oil's gains
* US crude futures turn lower after gaining earlier
* Coming Up: API oil inventory data 4:30 p.m. EST Tuesday
(Adds details, price reaction)
By Joshua Schneyer
NEW YORK, Dec 10 Brent oil prices rose slightly
on Monday after Chinese data showed oil imports increased last
month, a sign of robust demand for commodities in the world's
No. 2 oil consuming country.
Chinese customs data showed imports rose to 5.69 million
barrels per day last month, which tried for the third-highest
monthly level ever and was up 3 percent from a year-earlier
figures. Iron ore imports also rose, and China's oil refinery
runs reached a record last month above 10.1 million barrels a
The data helped boost expectations for steady global demand
among oil traders. Brent crude's gains ended a five-day
slide for the global benchmark, while U.S. crude futures
fell slightly in afternoon trading, after being higher most of
the day, as forecasts showed unseasonably warm weather that
could limit demand for fuel.
"The (Chinese) figures are another confirmation that Chinese
oil demand is accelerating again, and there are good reasons to
expect that it will carry on growing strongly next year," said
Carsten Fritsch, senior oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Optimism about Chinese growth was tempered by customs data
released there on Monday that showed the country's exports
expanded less rapidly than expected last month.
Brent for January delivery rose 31 cents to settle at
$107.33 per barrel, while U.S.-traded West Texas Intermediate
fell 37 cents to $85.56 per barrel, posting a fifth day
The divergence widened the spread between the European and
U.S. benchmarks to around $21.70 a barrel, from as narrow
as$20.45 last week. CL-LCO1=R
Meteorologists forecast mild U.S. weather over the next
week, particularly for the eastern half of the country,
potentially curbing demand for heating.
"With the warm (U.S.) weather ... you can see heating oil
and natural gas futures both lower today," said John Kilduff of
hedge fund Again Capital in New York.
Exports from Europe's industrial powerhouse Germany rose
last month by 0.3 percent, after they had contracted by 2.4
percent in October, German data showed on Monday.
But political uncertainty in Italy helped limit oil price
gains by keeping concerns about the euro zone's debt and
economic growth in focus.
Italian borrowing costs soared and share prices tumbled on
Monday after Prime Minister Mario Monti, an economist respected
by investors, said on Saturday he would quit once Italy's 2013
budget is approved, after losing the support of ex-Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right PDL.
CHINA'S MIXED DATA
China's oil refinery throughput rose in November by 9.1
percent from the same month of 2011.
But while increased imports and refining boded well for
China's domestic economy, the country's export growth slowed to
a lower-than-expected 2.9 percent in November, a customs report
said on Monday.
Also, on oil traders' radar, U.S. Federal Reserve
policymakers start a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday against
the backdrop of U.S. budget negotiations, with many economists
expecting the Fed to announce a fresh round of bond purchases to
stimulate the economy in 2013.
On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Republican
House leader John Boehner for talks on a budget deal to avoid
the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff, which could trigger tax
increases and spending cuts in 2013.
Neither the White House nor Boehner's office made comments
on the contents of the meeting.
A deal must be reached before Jan. 1 to avoid the fiscal
International benchmark Brent oil would need to end the
month above $107.38 per barrel to post a gain for 2012.
Oil investors also await comments on supply outlook from the
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting on
The producer group is not widely expected to cut its output
target of 30 million bpd, in place since 2011. Despite
relatively high global oil stockpiles and slowing demand growth,
Brent prices have remained over $100 a barrel, partly due to
political tensions in the Middle East and the threat of supply
Oil traders said Brent also retreated from Monday's high --
of $108.54 per barrel -- after ExxonMobil lifted a force
majeure on loadings of Qua Iboe crude from Nigeria following
export delays caused by earlier flooding.
(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York,
Christopher Johnson in London and Manash Goswami in Singapore.;
Editing by Alden Bentley and Bob Burgdorfer)