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Oil prices up in Asia as US inventory falls

SINGAPORE--Oil prices edged higher in thin Asian trade Monday as investors focused on a fall in U.S. crude inventories, indicating robust demand in the world's top consumer.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery, was up two cents at US$100.34 in afternoon trade while Brent North Sea crude for February gained 19 cents to US$112.37.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday reported that crude inventories for the week to Dec. 20 fell by 4.7 million barrels, more than the 2.2 million expected by analysts in a Wall Street Journal survey.

The decline was the fourth consecutive drop after a 10-week run of rises that added 35 million barrels to total stockpiles.

Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said the falling inventories in the world's biggest economy underscored “stronger demand as the global outlook brightens”.

The upbeat stockpiles report released on Friday, delayed due to the Christmas holidays, is supporting WTI prices above the “psychologically important” US$100 mark, Chua said.

The report came amid other signs the U.S. economy is picking up. Data released last week showed new home sales, durable goods orders and jobless claims also bested expectations.

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