Oil near $82 a barrel

LONDON: Oil prices hovered around $82 a barrel Thursday in Europe as traders weighed stagnant U.S. crude demand against a gradual global economic recovery.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for April delivery was up 20 cents to $82.29 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 60 cents to settle at $82.09 on Wednesday.

Crude prices have hovered in the low $80s this week — after jumping from $69 early last month — on investor optimism that sluggish U.S. oil demand will eventually reflect a growing global economy.

Crude prices briefly reached an eight-week high of $83.03 on Wednesday after OPEC predicted world oil demand would grow by 900,000 barrels per day this year but it warned its forecast depended on a sustained global economic rebound, particularly in the U.S.

Markets are "still hesitant and for now we are still more or less at the same flat price levels as at the end of last week," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland.

Investors also have an eye on events next week, when OPEC ministers are due to meet to discuss output.

Some analysts are concerned economic growth in developed countries may slow in the second half as massive government stimulus spending peters out, making commodity demand even more dependent on growth in emerging markets such as China and India.

"We have actually become more worried about the outlook for the global economy," London-based Capital Economics said in a report. "The boost from policy stimulus will soon fade. The recovery looks fragile in the U.K. and may already have stalled in the euro-zone."

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil was up 0.15 cents to $2.1177 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 0.15 cents to $2.284 a gallon. Natural gas declined 2.6 cents to $4.533 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was down 15 cents at $80.29 on the ICE futures exchange.