NEW YORK (AP) - The price of oil climbed above $97 a barrel Tuesday for the first time in four months, and analysts said it could go higher if upcoming reports on jobs and U.S. economic growth are positive.
Benchmark oil for March delivery rose $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to close at $97.57 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil hadn't closed above $97 in New York since Sept. 14. It is now up more than $5 a barrel this year and U.S. drivers are finding higher prices at the gas pump.
This is a big week for U.S. economic indicators. So far investors, both in commodities and stocks, have embraced the positive reports while discounting the negative ones.
A report Tuesday showed U.S. home prices in November had the biggest year-over-year increase in six years, as evidence grows that the U.S. housing market is recovering. That outweighed a separate report that indicated higher taxes and an uncertain economic picture are sapping consumer confidence.
The government will also this week release the latest numbers on fourth-quarter growth, weekly jobless claims and January unemployment. If those reports suggest that the economy is strengthening and hiring is picking up, oil would likely add to its recent gains.
Oil has posted seven straight weekly gains, something not seen since 2009, noted Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. He said the market "seems to want to move above $100" as investors buy on the recent momentum, a trend he refers to as "money chasing money."
It all adds up to higher prices at the pump. The average price for a gallon of gas rose for a 12th straight day Tuesday to $3.36 a gallon, a seven-week high. And Kloza says wholesale prices have risen over the past week, so more increases are likely at the local gas station. Still, he doesn't expect gas to spike as it did last year when the average price rose 55 cents a gallon between Jan. 25 and the end of March.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 88 cents to end at $114.36 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
- Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to finish at $2.97 per gallon.
- Natural gas lost 6 cents to end at $3.23 per 1,000 cubic feet.
- Heating oil gained 5 cents to finish at $3.11 a gallon.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.