Better-than-expected data on U.S. housing starts sent oil prices gaining on Friday after investors viewed the numbers as another indication of a more robust U.S. economy, one that will demand more fuel and energy going forward.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in March traded at USD94.65 a barrel during U.S. trading, up 0.58%. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of USD94.07 a barrel and a high of USD95.06 a barrel.

The March contract settled down 0.26% at USD94.10 a barrel on Thursday. Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at USD91.65 a barrel, Monday''s low, and resistance at USD95.73 a barrel, the high from Jan. 3.

Data released earlier revealed that U.S. housing starts rose dropped 9.8% and came in at 999,000 units in December from an upwardly revised 1.107 million units in November.

Markets were expecting see 990,000 in new housing starts, and the better-than-expected figure boosted spirits by suggesting fundamental improvements are taking place in the U.S. housing sector and broader economy as a whole, which boosted oil prices despite spotty data elsewhere.

Separately, official data showed that U.S. building permits declined 3% to 986,000 million units in December from 1.017 million units the previous month. Analysts had expected building permits to slip to 1.015 million units last month.

Also on Friday, the preliminary Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 80.4 in January from 82.5 in December, defying expectations for a rise to 83.5, which watered down oil''s gains slightly.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for March delivery were up 0.91% and trading at USD106.72 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at USD12.07 a barrel.

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