UPDATE 2-Brent holds steady above $103 as China exports beat forecast

Manash Goswami
Friday, 8 Nov 2013 | 2:30 AM ET

* China's Oct crude imports down 14 pct yr-on-yr

* World powers, Iran attempt to nail-down accord on nuclear standoff

* U.S. growth picks up as restocking offsets weak spending

* Heavy fighting rocks Libyan capital as rival militias battle

* Coming Up: U.S. nonfarm payrolls; 1330 GMT

(Adds comments, updates prices)

SINGAPORE, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Brent futures held steady above $103 a barrel on Friday as a rebound in export growth added to signs of an improving economy in the second-biggest oil consumer, overshadowing a fall in crude imports to a 13-month low.

China's crude imports fell after hitting a record in the previous month as two major plants went into overhauls, suggesting the slide is a one-off. Yet the more-than-expected rebound in export growth suggested that China's economy has found its footing.

Brent crude was up 5 cents at $103.51 a barrel by 0725 GMT, after losing $1.78 overnight. U.S. oil gained 23 cents to $94.43 a barrel, after dropping 60 cents in the previous session.

"The October crude oil numbers are down, but if you look at the broad trade data, it seems the numbers are in line to meet the growth target the government set out to achieve," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

"The overall demand growth story seems intact."

China brought in 4.81 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in October, down 13.8 percent on a daily basis from a year ago, according to the General Administration of Customs.

The October imports were down 144,000 bpd from a record 6.25 million bpd in September, possibly because oil firms cleared some cargoes through customs ahead of a long national holiday in the first week of October, traders said.

Oil got further support from more civil unrest in Libya, where some of the worst fighting in months broke out in the capital Tripoli on Thursday.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth accelerated in the third quarter at a 2.8 percent annual rate, the quickest pace in a year, after expanding at a 2.5 percent clip in the second quarter. Economists had expected lower third-quarter growth.

The expansion in consumer spending at the slowest pace in two years still suggested an underlying loss of momentum, resulting in mixed views on if the GDP number would be enough for the Federal Reserve to start rolling back its stimulus.


Investors are awaiting a jobs report due later in the day to see if that would give the Fed further reason to taper its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases sooner rather than later.

"Oil will trade in a range ahead of the U.S. jobs data due later today as the dollar is perhaps the biggest swing factor in markets at this point," Spooner said.

A cutback in stimulus by the Fed later this year, would reduce the supply of dollars and make dollar-denominated assets such as oil more expensive for holders of other currencies. The dollar is also drawing support from a surprise interest rate cut by the European Central Bank.

Brent was also under pressure from the steady progress in talks between Iran and the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme, which is taking some of the risk out of the market.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will join nuclear talks between major powers and Iran in Geneva on Friday in an attempt to nail down a long-elusive accord to start resolving a decade-old standoff over Tehran's atomic aims.

"Talks between Iran and other world powers to put an end to the nuclear stand-off seems to be progressing well and this is weighing on Brent crude as well," analysts at Phillip Futures said in a note.

(Editing by Tom Hogue)