Brent steady above $108, better U.S., China data support
* China's May exports gain steam but imports fall unexpectedly
* China's commodities imports fall in May on high stocks, tighter credit
* U.S. recoups jobs lost in recession as economy picks up
* Brent targets $107.77 -technicals
By Manash Goswami
SINGAPORE, June 9 (Reuters) - Brent futures held steady above $108 a barrel on Monday as healthy Chinese export data and a solid U.S. jobs report revived hopes of steady growth in oil demand from the world's top two consumers.
The improved demand outlook is helping put a floor under oil prices, already supported by supply disruption fears amid uncertainties over Libyan exports and the geopolitical crisis over Ukraine. Yet further gains in oil were capped, as China's crude imports in May fell 9.4 percent from a month ago.
Brent crude gained 3 cents to $108.64 by 0344 GMT, after settling down 18 cents and declining 0.7 percent for the week. U.S. oil rose 15 cents to $102.81, extending gains after ending 18 cents up and finishing the week unchanged.
"China's crude imports were lower, but good overall economic data and healthy U.S. data are supporting oil. They are the positives for the market," said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax Investment. "And we have had geopolitical worries that have kept oil supported."
China's exports gained steam in May on firmer global demand, beating forecasts to rise 7 percent from a year earlier and quickening from April's gain of 0.9 percent. The strong gains overshadow the unexpected fall in imports that possibly signals weaker domestic demand.
The Chinese data followed close on the heels of solid U.S. numbers that showed employment returned to its pre-recession peak, adding to confirmation of a steady improvement in the world's biggest economy. May marked a fourth straight month of job gains above 200,000, a stretch last seen in January 2000.
The U.S. data helped bolster Asian shares to their highest levels in nearly three years, basking in the glow of a record close on Wall Street.
Yet, these robust gains may prompt a correction in the equity market, which in turn could hurt oil, Emori said.
"The fundamentals for oil are still good, but any correction in equity markets may see speculative money flowing out of oil as well," he said.
While chances of a decline in oil are limited, if there is a correction, the U.S. contract would face strong support at $101.50 a barrel, he said. A breach below would see the benchmark face another floor at $100.50. Brent crude will hold about $6 higher than its U.S. counterpart.
China, the world's largest consumer of energy, imported 26.08 million tonnes, or 6.14 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in May, bringing total shipments in the first five months of this year to 128.7 million tonnes.
On a daily basis, crude imports of 6.14 million barrels per day (bpd) were down 9.4 percent from April's record high, as refineries cut production during the peak maintenance season.
China's slackening economy, set to grow at its slowest pace in 23 years, has blunted its oil demand, which dropped to a seven-month low in April, as refineries scaled back production for maintenance and exported surplus fuel. (Reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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