Oil prices climbed near $100 per barrel Thursday on stronger jobs and housing data in the U.S.
Benchmark U.S. crude added 29 cents to end the day at $99.65 per barrel in New York.
Oil rose late in the day after the government reported that claims for jobless benefits fell to a four-week average of 375,000. That's the lowest level in three and a half years.
The National Association of Realtors also reported that contracts to buy homes rose last month to the highest level in a year and a half.
Both reports pointed to stronger economic growth as 2011 comes to a close, and that could lead to rising energy demand in 2012.
So far, however, U.S. petroleum demand remains relatively weak when compared with a year ago. The Energy Information Administration said Thursday that oil demand in the U.S. has dropped by 7.8 percent from the same time last year, and gasoline demand has declined by 5.6 percent.
U.S. oil supplies also rose by 3.9 million barrels last week. That was a surprise for analysts, who expected supplies to shrink, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
In a separate report, the EIA said that U.S. natural gas supplies fell less than expected last week.
Natural gas prices already have tumbled by 17 percent this month as a lack of snowfall and unusually balmy temperatures across parts of the U.S. cut into heating demand. After the government supply report was released, prices fell by another 9.4 cents, or 3 percent, to end at $3.027 per 1,000 cubic feet.
At the pump, retail gasoline prices rose by about a penny to a national average of $3.254 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular is about 4 cents cheaper than a month ago, but it's still more than 19 cents higher than the same time last year.
In other energy trading, heating oil rose by 2.41 cents to finish at $2.9175 per gallon, and gasoline futures added 2.88 cents to finish at $2.6801 per gallon.
Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil varieties that are imported by U.S. refineries, increased by 45 cents to finish at $108.01 per barrel in London.