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Oil prices rise on last day of 2009

LONDON, Dec 31- World oil prices, which have soared 40 percent this year on signs of global economic recovery, rose Thursday as solid US demand underpinned the market on the last trading day of 2009, traders said.

New York\’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, gained 55 cents to 79.83 dollars a barrel, after earlier rising as high as 79.98.

Brent North Sea crude for February won 72 cents to reach 78.75 dollars in early London trading.

Crude oil has surged in 2009 as traders were heartened by mounting evidence that the battered global economy was on the mend, with the eurozone, Japan and the United States escaping a fierce recession.

The worldwide economic downturn, which was sparked by the global financial crisis, had slammed demand for energy and sent oil prices plunging to about 33 dollars towards the end of 2008.

"So much then for 2009, a year that the oil market spent mainly in a recovery mode," said Barclays Capital analyst Paul Horsnell.

"It produced a (New York oil price) average of about 62 dollars per barrel, encompassing a low of 33 dollars per barrel and a high of 82 dollars per barrel, with prices finishing the year close to the highs after a steady ten-month climb."

However, prices still remain far below the record high points of above 147 dollars per barrel that were struck in July 2008 on fears of supply disruptions.

On Thursday, New York crude oil flirted with 80 dollars per barrel, extending recent gains on news of a drop in US petroleum reserves, which suggested stronger demand in the world\’s biggest energy-consuming nation.

The US Department of Energy (DoE) said Wednesday that crude stockpiles sank by 1.5 million barrels in the week ending December 25 and distillates — which include heating fuel and diesel — dropped 2.0 million barrels.

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Though the figures were in line with forecasts by analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires, they added to the massive drawdowns seen in the prior week, with declines of 5.0 million and 3.0 million barrels, respectively.

Declining stockpiles indicate strengthening demand in the United States, the world\’s biggest economy and the largest consumer of energy followed by number two China.

American energy demand rose last week as cold winter weather gripped much of the United States.

"We\’ve certainly seen the cold weather impact the weekly inventory data… That\’s certainly been good for the oil market," said Mark Pervan, senior commodities analyst with ANZ bank in Melbourne.

Elsewhere in commodity markets this year, gold prices scored a record peak of 1,226.56 dollars per ounce at the start of December.

The glamorous metal smashed record after record this year on the back of inflationary fears and increasing moves by central banks to diversify assets away from the dollar, which weakened against the European single currency.

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