WTI crude edges lower on oversupply concerns

Crude oil prices closed mixed Friday as investors weighed a big supply in the US, encouraging trade data from China and renewed tensions with Iran.

New York's benchmark contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, settled 11 cents lower from Thursday at $95.72 a barrel.

In London trade, Brent North Sea crude for March leaped $1.66 to settle at $118.90 a barrel.

"The WTI crude oil market is exceedingly well-supplied," said Tim Evans, an analyst at Citi Futures.

Compared with a year ago, Evans said, US crude oil stockpiles were 9.6 percent higher and oil production was up about 22 percent, providing an additional 1.27 million barrels a day of production.

"WTI crude oil price is not following the Brent market higher because there is no bullish case for WTI crude oil, there is no reason for it to rally," he said.

A massive blizzard barreling down on the heavily populated US northeast also may have weighed on WTI, Evans said, because it "will tend to suppress end-use consumption, with flight cancellations, less driving activity and power outages that shut off home furnaces."

WTI had opened the trading session higher, joining Brent in welcoming robust trade data from China, the world's biggest energy consumer.

Official data released on Friday showed China's trade surplus rose 7.7 percent year-on-year to $29.2 billion in January.

China imported 5.9 million barrels of crude oil a day last month, an increase of 7.4 percent from January 2011, reassuring investors about the strength of demand.

Oil prices also had been lifted earlier in the day by renewed tensions over Iran after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected Thursday a US offer to negotiate one-on-one on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The tensions between the US and Iran have strengthened Brent as the international oil benchmark by raising fears that oil supplies could be affected.

Western powers believe Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon, but Tehran says its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes.