New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in March, gained 31 cents to USD 100.01 a barrel in morning trade. Brent North Sea crude for March delivery was up 34 cents at USD 111.13. "Crude markets are holding steady, with prices supported by an anticipation of strong US growth data in Q4 (fourth quarter) of 2011," said Nick Trevethan, senior commodities strategist at ANZ Research.
The US Commerce Department will release its figures later Friday, with analysts expecting the world's biggest economy to have grown 3.20 percent in the quarter, the fastest pace in 18 months. European Union foreign ministers agreed a ban on Iranian oil imports and a phase-out of existing contracts up to July 1 to pressure Tehran to end its controversial nuclear programme.
They also froze the assets of the country's central bank while ensuring legitimate trade under strict conditions. In a retaliatory move, Iran's parliament is expected to consider next week a bill to ban oil exports to Europe immediately before the embargo comes into force, according to media reports.
The Islamic republic, which is already under four rounds of United Nations sanctions, vehemently denies its nuclear programme masks an atomic weapons drive as the West alleges, and insists it is for civilian purposes only.
"(The) threat from Iran to cut off its crude exports to the European Union earlier than July ... also helped lift prices as it added to the geopolitical risk premium," said Phillip Futures in a commentary. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eased tensions slightly late Thursday by declaring that Tehran was ready to sit down with world powers for talks on its nuclear drive, according to state media.