Oil prices turn mixed in Asian trade

Oil turned mixed in Asian trade Monday on profit-taking, but analysts said optimism over stronger energy demand sparked by robust US and China trade data should support prices.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, was down six cents to $95.66 a barrel in the afternoon, reversing an earlier uptick.

Brent North Sea crude for March delivery was up one cent to 118.91, narrowing gains during the morning trade.

Analysts said prices remain well supported over the longer term.

"Positive trade data out of the world's two largest economies sent traders into the Chinese New Year holidays in an upbeat mood," said Jason Hughes, head of premium client management at IG Markets Singapore.

"The US narrowed its trade gap to the smallest margin in three years, thanks mainly to record oil exports. Meanwhile, China saw growing demand for exports which raised hopes its recovery is no flash in the pan," he said in a market commentary.

The US Commerce Department last Friday reported the trade deficit shrank more than expected in December to $38.5 billion, its lowest level since January 2010, from a revised $48.6 billion in November.

Hughes said China, the world's second biggest economy and largest energy consumer, also "starts the new year full of beans as better than expected economic news continues to be released".

China's exports jumped 25 percent year-on-year in January while imports soared nearly 29 percent.

In Europe, "the black cloud lifted somewhat... after policymakers reached an agreement on its long-term spending plans", Hughes said.

"For the first time, EU leaders agreed to cut spending as part of the seven-year budget," he added.

The deal however must be approved by the European Parliament, where legislators have expressed reservations.