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Oil below $92 amid US supplies rise, China growth

The price of oil slipped below $92 a barrel Thursday as traders weighed signs of economic recovery in the U.S. and China against an increase in U.S. crude supplies.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for November delivery was down 21 cents at $91.91 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 3 cents to settle at $92.12 a barrel on Wednesday.

Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, was down 47 cents to $112.86 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

The Chinese economy grew 7.4 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. That was down from 7.6 percent growth in the previous three months but a much gentler decline than in earlier quarters. The leveling out of China's growth slump along with an improvement in retail sales and investment in big ticket items such as factories suggested a recovery is taking shape.

"With clear signs that domestic demand is improving, it is now relatively safe to say that the Chinese economy has bottomed out," said a report from Danske Bank in Copenhagen.

Oil prices were also supported by Wednesday's release of U.S. housing data, which revealed a surprisingly strong construction outlook.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government reported a bigger-than-expected increase in U.S. crude stocks on Wednesday with supplies up by 2.9 million barrels last week. The extra oil in storage tends to push prices down.

But a decrease in distillate stocks, to 21 percent below the norm for this time of year, was seen as a bullish development.

"This should bolster oil prices because refineries will need to produce considerably more distillates in the coming weeks in order to satisfy heating demand during the winter months," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

_ Heating oil fell 0.47 cent to $3.1722 per gallon.

_ Natural gas was down 1.9 cents to $3.451 per 1,000 cubic feet.

_ Wholesale gasoline retreated 2.94 cents to $2.7348 per gallon.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.