UPDATE 2-Brent steadies above $111 as China data supports
* China Jan-Feb exports beat forecasts, crude imports down
* North Sea pipeline re-opening pressures Brent lower
* U.S. jobless claims support prices
* Coming Up: US non-farm payrolls; 1330 GMT
(Recasts, updates prices)
SINGAPORE, March 8 (Reuters) - Brent futures steadied above $111 a barrel on Friday after Chinese exports for February beat forecasts, while a restart of a crucial North Sea pipeline limited gains.
China's exports jumped by a fifth in February from a year earlier, boosting Asian shares and supporting base metals. Investors shrugged off a fall in oil imports last month by the world's second-biggest consumer, citing a demand lull during the Lunar New Year break and a high base a year ago, when imports were the second highest on record.
Brent futures rose 4 cents to $111.19 per barrel at 0744 GMT. The contract has eased nearly 7 percent from this year's high of $119.17 on demand growth uncertainty.
U.S. oil slipped 2 cents to $91.54, after ending more than a $1 higher in the previous session on an unexpected drop in U.S. unemployment benefits.
"Oil prices have fallen quite a bit from the highs, so they should stay near the support levels for now," said Tony Nunan, an oil risk manager at Mitsubishi in Tokyo.
Nunan expects Brent to be supported at the 200-day moving average of $109.22. Oil prices rose in the first three weeks of the year on expectations of buoyant global economic growth but quickly gave up gains on concerns central banks would curtail their policy easing measures.
Brent is set to gain 0.8 percent for the week, snapping three straight weekly losses. U.S. oil is expected to gain a percent after two straight weeks of losses.
China's crude oil imports in February fell nearly 9 percent from a year earlier on a daily basis, customs data showed on Friday. February's daily rate was down 8.9 percent from a high base a year earlier when imports hit 5.95 million bpd, the second highest on record.
WEIGHING ON PRICES
But the fall in China's crude imports comes against a backdrop of a rise in inbound shipments to a record 5.42 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2012, a pace quicker than the previous year as new refining capacity came on stream over the final quarter, customs data showed.
"Imports were really high at the end of the year and so was implied demand," said Nunan. Therefore, the slide in imports is not a surprise, he said.
The Brent oil pipeline system in the British North Sea, which forms part of the global Brent benchmark, began a restart after its second shutdown in almost two months.
The 80,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) system was shut on Saturday after more oil was found to have leaked into a leg of the 10,000 bpd Cormorant Alpha platform, which has remained offline since mid-January.
Brent is biased to retest resistance at $111.83 per barrel, as a rebound from the Monday low of $109.58 may continue, while U.S. oil may retrace to $90.50, according to Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.
CHINA, U.S. CUES
China's exports for January and February rose 23.6 percent, while imports increased 5 percent, compared with expectations for rises of 17.6 percent and 10.0 percent, respectively.
Analysts look at the combined figures because of distortions caused by the Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in January in 2012 and in February this year.
Next in the line of macroeconomic cues for oil markets is the U.S. non-farm payroll numbers expected later on Friday, a key factor in determining the Federal Reserve's policy on quantitative easing.
The data follows Thursday's jobless claims numbers for February, which unexpectedly fell last week.
"The decline in jobless claims signals a further improvement in the labour market, though traders will look to the non-farm payrolls numbers tonight for confirmation," ANZ analysts said in a report on Friday.
According to a Reuters poll, U.S. jobs may have increased moderately by 160,000 jobs in February, slightly up from January's 157,000.
(Additonal reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue)