Oil up after China demand news, traders see fragile recovery

Reuters with staff
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Oil prices closed slightly higher Tuesday after an early rally aided by data showing stronger-than-expected China demand and some technical price recovery after weeks of almost uninterrupted selling.

Unflattering global economic data, especially out of Europe, and fears that crude markets were still oversupplied limited gains, analysts and traders said.

"Because of their deep slide over the past couple of weeks, oil prices are kind of overdone on the downside and vulnerable to turnarounds now," said Gene Addison of Tradition Energy, an oil services advisory firm in Stamford, Connecticut.

"But whether we have hit bottom or not remains a question. I would think not given the market's recent performance, the continued swoon of the European economies and the idea that we have more than ample supplies of oil sloshing around the world finding for a home."

Cheap gas prices could fall further

Benchmark crude was up 35 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $85.70 a barrel by 11:34 a.m. EDT, after rising more than $1 or 1 percent earlier to a session high of $86.48.

Read MoreChina GDP may reignite global growth panic

The U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude turned negative in choppy afternoon trading after hovering in positive territory throughout the morning and hitting a session peak at $84.05 a barrel in New York.

Implied oil demand in China, the world's largest energy consumer, jumped 6.2 percent in September from August to 10.3 million barrels per day, the highest since February, data showed.

China's economy also expanded above forecasts, growing 7.3 percent in the third quarter, although that was the slowest pace since the global financial crisis. Factory output rose 8 percent in September from a year earlier.

Read MoreChina's third-quarter GDP data beat forecasts

"Oil is up in reaction to the Chinese demand figures. But this is a rally that should be sold into," said Tamas Varga, analyst at London-based brokerage PVM Oil Associates.

"The rise in implied Chinese oil demand may have more to do with filling stockpiles. Chinese companies have been buying crude oil because it has been cheap."

Christopher Bellew, a senior oil broker with Jefferies in London, agreed.

"Looking forward, I think we'll see more pressure to the downside," Bellew said. "These lower prices will take a while to have any impact on supply."

Read MoreFalling gas prices will boost spending 'a little:' Analyst

European equity markets rose on news that the European Central Bank was considering a corporate bond-buying plan to boost the economy, providing a glimmer of hope after months of dire data.

The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, slashed its world oil demand growth forecast for next year. On Wall Street, investment bank Citigroup cut its forecast for Brent to $92 and U.S. crude to $83 for the fourth quarter.

Some members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have indicated the group is unlikely to cut output ahead of its Nov. 27 meeting. Others are preparing 2015 budgets with lower oil prices.

CNBC contributed to this story.