NEW YORK – Oil futures topped $100 per barrel for the first time since early June on Thursday as a private research group said the economy should keep growing this year while European leaders discussed more financial aid for Greece.
The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent in June. The increase suggested the economy won't fall back into a recession over the next few months, even with high unemployment and a weak housing market.
Officials in Europe prepared a new rescue package for Greece at an emergency summit in Brussels. The move strengthened the euro relative to the dollar. Oil, which is priced in dollars, tends to rise as the dollar weakens and makes crude cheaper for investors holding foreign currencies.
"We're getting some good news again," independent oil analyst Jim Ritterbusch said. "When that happens, commodities start to look attractive."
Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for August delivery rose $1.60 to $100 per barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It reached $100.16 earlier. Brent crude, which is used to price many international varieties, gained 71 cents at $118.86 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency said it may release more oil to hold off future price spikes. The IEA, which announced plans last month to dump millions of barrels onto the market, said it "stands ready" to add more if needed.
On June 23 the IEA said it will release 60 million barrels of oil, mostly from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to make up for 1.5 million barrels of daily exports lost after Libya was engulfed in an anti-government rebellion that started in February.
Since the IEA announcement, the price of benchmark crude has increased nearly 5 percent and pump prices have risen 2 percent.
The Energy Information Administration also reported Thursday that natural gas supplies grew last week to 2.67 trillion cubic feet. That's about what analysts expected.
In other Nymex trading for August contracts, heating oil gained a penny at $3.1301 per gallon and gasolinefutures lost about a penny at $3.1334 per gallon. Natural gas fell 4.7 cents to $4.426 per 1,000 cubic feet.