The price of oil bounced back comfortably above $100 a barrel Wednesday on expectations of tighter supplies and record imports of crude by China, the world's second-largest oil consumer.
By mid-afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 92 cents to $100.86 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 12 cents to $99.94 on Tuesday.
Increased demand for heating oil due to frigid weather in the U.S. has lifted prices in recent weeks. In a report Tuesday, the U.S. Energy Department estimated that Americans will consume 5 percent more fuel this winter to heat their homes.
Additionally, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said U.S. distillate stocks fell by 1.5 million barrels, while crude oil stocks fell by 2.5 million barrels. Just as inventories of distillates tighten, refineries are starting to undergo seasonal maintenance, which lowers supplies and boosts prices heading into spring.
The stockpile report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out later Wednesday. Oil prices were also boosted by data showing that China's imports of crude rose to 6.6 million barrels a day in January, up nearly 12 percent on the same month last year and the highest figure on record.
"The figures point to surprisingly robust oil demand in China, which should allay concerns that the dynamism of demand is weakening," said a report from analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "That said, the actual picture could have been distorted by purchases brought forward ahead of the Chinese New Year's festival."
Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 43 cents to $109.11 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. In other energy futures trading in New York: — Wholesale gasoline gained 2.98 cents to $2.7824 a gallon.
— Heating oil added 1.07 cents to $3.0388 a gallon. — Natural gas rose 2.5 cents to $4.849 per 1,000 cubic feet.