(Corrects to say a strong dollar weakens crude prices)
* China export and import growth higher than forecast
* ECB statement, U.S. employment data awaited next
* Coming Up: ECB rate decision; 1245 GMT
By Ramya Venugopal
SINGAPORE, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Brent crude futures inched up towards $112 per barrel on Thursday after trade numbers from China beat analysts’ expectations, sparking hopes that recovery in the world’s second-biggest oil consumer will drive fuel demand higher.
China’s December imports rose at twice the rate expected by economists, while exports grew at more than three times the forecast rate, pushing the country’s trade balance to $31.6 billion from $19.6 billion in November.
“The growth in imports has been higher than expectations, which speaks highly for Chinese oil demand and global demand as a whole,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market analyst, CMC Markets Sydney. “Clearly, it will be seen as a positive for oil.”
Front-month Brent futures rose 10 cents per barrel to $111.86 by 0313 GMT, after shedding 18 cents in the previous session. U.S. crude rose 34 cents to $93.44 per barrel.
Trade data from the world’s second-largest economy showed the value of exports grew 14.1 percent last month from a year earlier, racing past the forecasts of analysts polled by Reuters, who had expected annual growth of 4 percent, and accelerating sharply from 2.9 percent in November.
The value of imports grew 6 percent in December on the year, also handily beating market forecasts for a rise of 3 percent and quickening from zero growth in November.
China’s crude oil imports for 2012 rose 6.8 percent from the previous year, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Thursday, in line with the 6.7 percent rate reported last month for January to November.
Gains were limited as investors were also waiting for a post-meeting news conference of the European Central Bank for cues on the recession economy’s outlook.
Recent data points to some stabilisation, and ECB President Mario Draghi could strike a slightly more positive tone in the news conference after the rate decision, analysts say.
The United States will announce initial jobless claims for the week ended Jan 5, which may offer some hints on the health of the world’s biggest economy, while the U.S. currency’s recent strength hurts commodities priced in dollars, such as oil.
“Oil markets are waiting for economic events later in the day,” said Ryoma Furumi, a commodity sales manager at Newedge in Tokyo. “The dollar is on the rise again and U.S. employment statistics also will be in focus.”
The dollar is edging towards a 2-1/2-year high against the yen on expectations that the new Japanese government will adopt more forceful monetary stimulus measures to boost growth. (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)