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Oil prices rose to near $102 a barrel Tuesday in Asia amid growing investor optimism the U.S. economy is improving, which would boost crude demand.

Benchmark crude for February delivery rose 49 cents to $101.80 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 25 cents to settle at $101.31 in New York on Monday.

In London, Brent crude was up 33 cents at $112.78 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Oil prices have hovered above $100 so far this month as signs of a strengthening U.S. economy bolster investor confidence.

Traders will be closely watching fourth-quarter corporate earnings reports, which began Monday, along with the latest data on retail sales, jobless claims and consumer sentiment later this week. The industrial average rose 0.3 percent Monday.

"Oil feels like a market that wants to head lower but is being precluded by a steady tone to equities, particularly within the U.S., where favorable economic guidance continues to be seen out of most releases," energy analyst Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report.

Tension between Iran and Western powers over Iran's nuclear program has also helped keep crude above $100. The U.S. has recently enacted new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad, and Europe is planning to restrict oil imports from Iran.

Iran has threatened to close the key Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf if the country's oil exports are undermined by U.S. or European sanctions.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil gained 0.6 cent at $3.08 per gallon and gasoline futures added 0.7 cent at $2.77 per gallon. Natural gas futures were down 0.9 cent to $3.00 per 1,000 cubic feet.

SINGAPORE

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