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Oil prices rise near $87 as recession fears ease

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[October 15, 2011]  NEW YORK (AP) -- A series of encouraging economic reports sparked oil prices Friday, pushing the benchmark to the highest level in nearly a month.

Investors shrugged off declining oil demand forecasts that came out earlier this week and focused instead on growing U.S. consumer spending, a rise in bank lending in China and a meeting of world leaders to discuss Europe's debt crisis.

"You're seeing one big sigh of relief" across world financial markets, independent analyst Jim Ritterbusch said. "Three weeks ago, it looked like we were definitely headed for a recession."

Benchmark crude rose $2.57, or 3.1 percent, to end at $86.80 per barrel in New York. That's the highest level since Sept. 20.

Brent crude, which is used to price oil from foreign countries, rose $3.57, or 3.2 percent, to finish at $114.68 in London.

Prices jumped after China said its inflation rate dropped last month, giving Chinese leaders room to further stimulate the country's economy without overheating it.

This week China reported a slowdown in exports, raising concerns that sluggish demand from the U.S. and Europe was taking a toll on the world's second-largest economy. But with lower inflation, analysts said China has the ability to ease limits on bank lending to keep its economy growing.

In the U.S., consumers spent more on cars, clothing and furniture last month. Consumer spending, which drives the U.S. economy, pushed retail sales up 1.1 percent in September, the biggest gain in seven months.

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Financial leaders of the world's largest economies were meeting in Paris to discuss how to resolve Europe's debt crisis. The Group of 20 is expected to address ways to save Greece from bankruptcy and kick-start European economies.

Meanwhile, gasoline pump prices rose for a fourth straight day -- by nearly 2 cents -- to a national average of $3.443 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular is at a record high for this time of year.

In other energy commodities trading, heating oil rose 8.4 cents to end at $3.0558 per gallon and gasoline futures increased 6.7 cents to finish at $2.8247 per gallon. Natural gas rose 17.2 cents to end the day at $3.703 per 1,000 cubic feet.

[Associated Press; By CHRIS KAHN]

Chris Kahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/ChrisKahnAP.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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