Oil snaps 2 days of steep losses, gains modest

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The price of oil broke two days of steep losses Friday and scrambled back to above $93 a barrel after official predictions that economic growth in Europe would pick up pace in the second half of the year. Ample supplies kept gains in check.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for April delivery was up 30 cents to $93.14 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The contract fell $2.38, or 2.5 percent, to finish at $92.84 per barrel in New York on Thursday, the second drop of 2 percent or more in two days.

The European Union's executive arm, the Commission, said Friday that it expects the recession currently afflicting the economy of the 17 EU countries sharing the euro to bottom out during the first half of 2013, with growth seen reaching an annual rate of 0.7 percent in the last three months of the year. In 2014, growth in the eurozone is forecast to accelerate to 1.4 percent.

Crude oil's recent slide is a result of ample supplies and recent speculation that the Federal Reserve may soon allow interest rates to rise, which would reduce the supply of easy cash investors have been using to buy commodities such as oil.

Data from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration released Thursday showed U.S. stockpiles of crude oil rose by 4.1 million barrels last week, just over twice the increase expected by analysts.

"The recent sharp decline in the oil market was a combination of disappointing U.S. economic data, renewed concerns from Fed minutes and a large increase in the levels of the oil inventories," said commentary from Sucden Financial Research in London.

Brent crude, which is used to price oil used to make gasoline in many U.S. refineries, was up 83 cents at $114.36 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Natural gas was up 1.3 cents at $3.259 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil gained 1.24 cents to $3.1073 per gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline added 2.45 cents to $3.2585 per gallon.

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