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Futures Movers: Oil prices push higher on hopes for U.S.-China trade progress

Oil futures moved higher on Friday, after a report that the U.S. could be ready to ease tariffs on China inspired investors to pick up perceived riskier assets such as commodities.

West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery

CLG9, +0.61%

 rose 66 cents, or 1.3%, to $52.73 a barrel, after closing down 0.5% to $52.07 on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday. March Brent crude

LCOH9, +0.51%

 rose 69 cents, or 1.1%, to $61.87 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, after slipping 0.2% to $61.18 a barrel on Thursday.

For the week as of Thursday, WTI and Brent crude are each looking at gains of over 2%.

Oil slipped Thursday, pressured from recent data showing a climb in weekly U.S. oil production. But crude spiked higher in electronic trade Thursday after The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials were debating a possible ease in tariffs on Chinese imports, to give Beijing incentive to make deeper concessions over the trade dispute.

Optimism lingered even though a Treasury spokesman told the WSJ that any bargaining positions remained “at the discussion stage.” The source also said that neither Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin nor U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have made any specific trade-related recommendations and talks were still ongoing.

Uncertainty over whether the U.S. and China will make headway on a lingering trade dispute has at times served to weigh down investor sentiment. And it has raised questions about the health of China, one of the world’s biggest importers of crude. Investors will get an important update on Chinese growth with fourth-quarter gross domestic product data due out Monday.

On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reported a bigger-than-expected fall in crude inventories of 2.7 million barrels for the week ended Jan. 11, but gasoline stockpiles surged higher by 7.5 million barrels. Then on Thursday, a monthly report from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said member oil production fell in December.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the de facto OPEC leader, slashed its production by more than expected, by 468,000 bpd to just over 10.5 million bpd, according to independent country data, reported by CNBC.

Across other energy contracts, February gasoline

RBG9, -0.13%

 was up 0.7% to $1.44 a gallon, while February heating oil

HOG9, +0.20%

 added 0.7% to $1.898 a gallon.

February natural gas

NGG19, -2.34%

fell 1.5% to $3.363 per million British thermal units.

— Myra P. Saefong and Mark DeCambre contributed to this article

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