WTI oil trades near six-week high …

West Texas Intermediate traded near the highest price in almost six weeks as China’s net crude imports rebounded in November and the U.S. jobless rate fell, signaling a recovery in the world’s biggest oil consumers.

Futures were little changed in New York after advancing 0.3 percent on Dec. 6 to cap a six-day advance, the longest rising streak since August. China’s net oil imports rose 19 percent to 5.73 million barrels a day last month, climbing from the lowest level in 14 months, data from the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs showed yesterday. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in November, the smallest in five years, according to Labor Department figures.

“The market is holding its gains,” said Ric Spooner, a chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney who predicts investors may sell West Texas contracts as prices approach $100 a barrel. “We’re into a zone of resistance after the rally we’ve seen so far. People will be watching to see what it does from here.”

WTI for January delivery was at $97.80 a barrel, up 15 cents, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 4:01 p.m. Singapore time. The contract rose 27 cents to $97.65 on Dec. 6, the highest close since Oct. 29. The volume of all futures traded was about 61 percent below the 100-day average. Prices gained 5.3 percent last week, the most since July.

Brent for January settlement was down 10 cents at $111.51 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark crude was at a premium of $13.71 to WTI, from $13.96 on Dec. 6.

Bullish Bets

Hedge funds boosted bullish bets on crude as economic growth accelerated in the U.S. and China. Money managers increased net-long positions, or wagers on rising prices for WTI, by 7.8 percent in the week ended Dec. 3, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. It was the biggest jump since July 23.

U.S. employers added 203,000 workers to non-farm payrolls last month, according to Labor Department data on Dec. 6. It was more than the 185,000 increase predicted in a Bloomberg News survey. China’s trade surplus last month swelled to $33.8 billion, the largest in more than four years as exports exceeded estimates, figures from the General Administration of Customs showed yesterday.

The U.S. will account for about 21 percent of global oil demand this year, compared with 11 percent for China, the second-largest consumer, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based adviser to developed nations.

“Economic news in the U.S. last week was quite good, so that’s boosting prices,” Robin Mills, the head of consulting at Manaar Energy Consulting and Project Management in Dubai, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

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