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Oil rises toward $79 amid mixed crude demand signs

SINGAPORE (AP) – Oil prices crept toward $79 a barrel Friday in Asia amid mixed signals about global crude demand.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 39 cents to $78.56 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.83 to settle at $78.17. 

Oil prices have bobbed between $70 and $80 for most of the last six months as investors mull growing crude demand in developing countries such as China offset by flagging consumption in developed countries. 

Even a cold winter in the US has failed to boost demand for heating oil. 

"The absence of any sustained seasonal draw in heating oil inventories is still striking," Barclays Capital said in a report. "The inventory overhang remains stubbornly high." 

"We continue to expect strong demand growth from China in 2010."

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Crude prices were bolstered by a weaker US dollar, as dollar-based commodities such as oil become cheaper for investors with other currencies when the dollar falls. The euro rose to $1.3585 on Friday from $1.3547 the previous day.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil rose 0.88 cent to $1.995 a gallon, and gasoline was steady at $2.038 a gallon. Natural gas prices gained 4 cents to $4.807 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was down 37 cents at $76.66 on the ICE futures exchange.

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