Oil rises above $80 as regional stocks gain

SINGAPORE: Oil prices rose above $80 a barrel Monday in Asia as crude traders followed regional stock markets higher.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 52 cents to $80.18 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added $1.49 to settle at $79.66.

Oil traders, who often look to equities as a measure of overall investor sentiment, were cheered by a jump in all the major Asian stock indexes Monday. Equity markets were boosted by hopes that Greece's debt-ridden economy would soon be rescued and a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing growth that eased fears of more government steps to cool the economy.

This week, investors will be eyeing U.S. jobs data to get a better sense of the recovery in the world's largest economy. The Labor Department is scheduled to announce February's unemployment rate on Friday. Joblessness was 9.7 percent in January.

Oil prices have touched the low $80 level several times in the last six months, but fallen back into the $70s when U.S. crude inventory data failed to justify investor optimism.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil rose 1.61 cents to $2.051 a gallon, and gasoline gained 1.21 cent to $2.20 a gallon. Natural gas prices fell 4.4 cents to $4.769 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was up 48 cents at $78.07 on the ICE futures exchange.