(Corrects to say a strong dollar weakens crude prices)
* China export and import growth higher than forecast
* ECB statement, U.S. employment data awaited next
* Coming Up: ECB rate decision; 1245 GMT
By Ramya Venugopal
SINGAPORE, Jan 10 Brent crude futures inched up
towards $112 per barrel on Thursday after trade numbers from
China beat analysts' expectations, sparking hopes that recovery
in the world's second-biggest oil consumer will drive fuel
China's December imports rose at twice the rate expected by
economists, while exports grew at more than three times the
forecast rate, pushing the country's trade balance to $31.6
billion from $19.6 billion in November.
"The growth in imports has been higher than expectations,
which speaks highly for Chinese oil demand and global demand as
a whole," said Michael McCarthy, chief market analyst, CMC
Markets Sydney. "Clearly, it will be seen as a positive for
Front-month Brent futures rose 10 cents per barrel
to $111.86 by 0313 GMT, after shedding 18 cents in the previous
session. U.S. crude rose 34 cents to $93.44 per barrel.
Trade data from the world's second-largest economy showed
the value of exports grew 14.1 percent last month from a year
earlier, racing past the forecasts of analysts polled by
Reuters, who had expected annual growth of 4 percent, and
accelerating sharply from 2.9 percent in November.
The value of imports grew 6 percent in December on the year,
also handily beating market forecasts for a rise of 3 percent
and quickening from zero growth in November.
China's crude oil imports for 2012 rose 6.8 percent from the
previous year, data from China's General Administration of
Customs showed on Thursday, in line with the 6.7 percent rate
reported last month for January to November.
Gains were limited as investors were also waiting for a
post-meeting news conference of the European Central Bank for
cues on the recession economy's outlook.
Recent data points to some stabilisation, and ECB President
Mario Draghi could strike a slightly more positive tone in the
news conference after the rate decision, analysts say.
The United States will announce initial jobless claims for
the week ended Jan 5, which may offer some hints on the health
of the world's biggest economy, while the U.S. currency's recent
strength hurts commodities priced in dollars, such as oil.
"Oil markets are waiting for economic events later in the
day," said Ryoma Furumi, a commodity sales manager at Newedge in
Tokyo. "The dollar is on the rise again and U.S. employment
statistics also will be in focus."
The dollar is edging towards a 2-1/2-year high against the
yen on expectations that the new Japanese government will adopt
more forceful monetary stimulus measures to boost growth.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)