Oil rebounded from the lowest price in almost a week as investors bet that fuel demand may increase amid signs the US and Chinese economies are strengthening. Futures gained as much as 0.7 percent in New York after losing 1 percent yesterday. US retail sales rose in February by the most in five months, a Commerce Department report today showed. China’s industrial output growth will pick up in March and April, a former industry minister said. Oil has climbed this year on concern that tension with Iran may lead to military conflict in the Middle East, where more than half the world’s oil reserves are located. “Oil prices have been bolstered by better-than-expected leading indicators and ample liquidity,” said Hannes Loacker, an analyst at Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI) in Vienna who predicts US futures will average $104 a barrel this year. “Chinese economic growth should be strong enough to prevent the oil price from falling too sharply.” Oil for April delivery rose as much as 79 cents to $107.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was at $106.88 at 12:36 p.m. London time. The contract yesterday fell $1.06 to $106.34, the lowest settlement since March 7. Prices are 8.1 percent higher this year. Brent crude for April settlement on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange was up 57 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $125.91. The European benchmark contract was at a premium of $19.03 to New York crude. The spread close at $19 yesterday, the most since Feb. 6. uS, China Economy US retail sales advanced 1.1 percent in February after a 0.4 percent gain in January, the Commerce Department said today. That was in line with the median estimate of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. China’s slowdown in industrial production in the first two months of the year was due to seasonality and government controls, Li Yizhong said while attending legislative meetings in Beijing. The US and China are the world’s biggest oil consumers, accounting for about 32 percent of global demand in 2010, according to BP Plc (BP/)’s Statistical Review of World Energy. “The market will be comforted by an ongoing story of reasonable growth in the US,” said Ric Spooner, a chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The retail sales figures will be keenly watched. The geopolitical risk is certainly a major factor that is clearly preventing prices from falling too far at this stage.” US gasoline inventories probably fell 1 million barrels last week, according to the median estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News before an Energy Department report tomorrow. Distillate supplies, including diesel and heating oil, probably dropped 1.4 million barrels and crude stockpiles rose 1.9 million, the survey showed. The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute will release its own stockpile data in Washington today. ‘High Side’ Crude prices are “on the high side,” Mohamed Al-Hamli, the United Arab Emirates’ energy minister, said in Kuwait yesterday at the International Energy Forum. The IEF is a gathering of energy officials and companies from producing and consuming countries that takes place every two years. Prices are “a bit high” and should be at $100 a barrel, Oman’s Oil Minister Mohammed Al-Rumhy said yesterday in an interview in Kuwait. Angolan Oil Minister Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos told reporters that international politics are pushing up the price of oil, and that the African nation would prefer to see Brent at $110 to $115 a barrel. US exports of gasoline, diesel and other fuels will more than double in the next three years as refiners take advantage of a growing supply of domestic crudes and ship more fuel to emerging markets, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Exports will rise by 450,000 barrels a day by 2015 as domestic demand shrinks and more products are sent to Latin America, Africa and other regions where fuel use is increasing, Alan Gelder, head of downstream consulting at Edinburgh-based Wood Mackenzie, said during a presentation at an American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers conference in San Diego.