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Oil up slightly after positive U.S. economic reports

BANGKOK - Oil prices rose Thursday after positive U.S. economic reports offset some of the pessimism about global growth prospects.

Benchmark oil for November delivery was up 20 cents to $88.33 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, oil fell $3.75, or 4.1 percent, to $88.14 per barrel in New York. That was the biggest decline since May 4.

Oil prices headed higher a day after economic reports showed improvement in the U.S. services sector and a modest uptick in private sector hiring last month. That partly balanced data released Wednesday that showed China's services sector expanding at a weaker pace in September.

China is the world's second-largest economy and a huge importer of commodities such as oil. China's crude oil imports fell to 4.3 million barrels per day in August, the weakest level since October 2010, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated in a report last week.

But analysts said prices could find their footing if Chinese economic growth improves later this year and into 2013.

Caroline Bain, a commodities analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an email commentary that "while we take a somewhat bearish stance on the oil price, the risks are decidedly on the upside."

Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, rose 66 cents to $108.83 in London.

In other energy futures trading in New York:

- Natural gas rose 5 cents to $3.445 per 1,000 cubic feet.

- Heating oil rose 2.2 cents to $3.089 per gallon.

- Wholesale gasoline rose 3.1 cents to $2.83 per gallon.

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