Oil prices climbing

(Photo courtesy pat00139 via Flickr)

NEW YORK (AP) - Oil prices climbed Tuesday on expectations that China's economy - and its appetite for petroleum - will continue to grow in 2012. Benchmark crude rose by 93 cents to finish at $102.24 per barrel in New York.

Brent crude, used to price foreign oil varieties that are imported by U.S. refineries, rose 83 cents to end at $113.28 per barrel in London.

Prices rose after China said oil imports grew 6 percent in December, when compared to a year earlier. China is the world's second biggest oil consumer behind the U.S. Strong demand for oil in China will likely help support higher global crude prices in 2012.

Manufacturers are looking to China and other emerging economies for strong growth this year. Aluminum maker Alcoa on Monday was the first major U.S. company to report fourth-quarter earnings.

Although it posted a loss, Alcoa offered a bullish outlook for the year, expecting strong demand from China. Stocks rose on hopeful signs for the global economy. Major indexes were up about 1 percent in afternoon trading.

Energy commodities and stock markets are "being turbo charged by U.S. economic optimism," independent analyst Jim Ritterbusch said. Investors were also reassured about measures to address Europe's debt problems after credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings said it won't downgrade France this year.

A downgrade would have made it more expensive for France to raise cash to deal with the crisis.

Elsewhere, the security of world oil supplies remained a major concern for oil traders.

Nigeria, a top oil supplier to the U.S., has been embroiled in widespread protests and violence following the government's decision to end subsidies, more than doubling the price of gasoline.

Nigeria exported about 857,000 barrels per day of oil to the U.S. in 2011, supplying nearly 5 percent of the country's demand, according to the Energy Information Administration. Iran still threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, if the U.S. and other countries impose more sanctions on its nuclear program.

Although experts doubt Iran could attempt a blockade without swift military intervention from the U.S., any supply shortages this year would further squeeze oil markets at a time when they're already falling behind world demand.