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Oil edges higher on signs of stronger U.S. demand

The price of oil extended gains Thursday, a day after rising for the first time in a week on signs of increased U.S. demand for gasoline and other fuels.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 27 cents to $100.64 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract, which expires Thursday, gained 67 cents to $100.37 the day before. Most trading has moved to the May contract, which was up 11 cents at $99.28 a barrel.

The U.S. Energy Department said that demand for gasoline rose 1.5 percent over the four-week period ended March 14 compared with the same period last year. Supplies of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel, fell by 3.1 million barrels, more than three times the decline analysts were expecting. Both figures were seen as signs of strengthening demand.

Oil also got a boost from the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday to further reduce bond purchases aimed at stimulating economic growth. Traders saw that as a sign the Fed is more confident the U.S. economy can grow on its own.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 16 cents at $106.01 a barrel.

In other energy futures trading in New York:

- Wholesale gasoline was almost unchanged at $2.862 a gallon.

- Natural gas was down 4.3 cents at $4.441 per 1,000 cubic feet.

- Heating oil rose 0.2 cent to $2.893 a gallon.

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