Oil edges higher ahead of fresh US economic data

SINGAPORE: Oil prices nudged higher in Asia Tuesday on hopes of improved US economy figures, but analysts said gains would be capped with dealers squaring positions for the end of the year.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery gained 51 cents to $55.77 while Brent crude for February was up 29 cents to $60.40 in mid-morning trade.

“We could see oil move slightly up today as investors expect the US third-quarter GDP figures to be revised upwards,” Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, told AFP.

The US Commerce Department will release the latest gross domestic product estimates later on Tuesday.

Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect the agency to say the US economy grew at a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.3 percent in the July-September quarter, up from its previous estimate of 3.9 percent.

US economic data is closely watched by crude investors as the country is the world´s biggest oil consuming nation.

Ang said gains would be tempered however, with many dealers “closing their positions before Christmas and waiting for the new year before starting trading again”.

“Overall, I remain quite bearish on oil. We could see prices plummet yet again in the new year,” he added.

Oil has shed about half its value since June, and a decision in November by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to maintain output levels despite falling prices has weighed on the market.

Trading volumes in Asia were thinner than usual Tuesday as Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday.