By Natalie GroverLONDON (.) -Global benchmark hovered above $84 a barrel on Friday after data this week signalled growing demand in the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest crude users, while festering conflict in the Middle East also provided support. Brent futures were up 33 cents at $84.21 a barrel by 1314 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude climbed 42 cents to $79.68. Falling inventories on the back of higher refinery runs coincided with data on Thursday showing China’s April oil imports were higher than last year’s.China’s exports and imports returned to growth in April after contracting the previous month. U.S. inflation data next week will also be front and centre, with its potential to affect the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy path.The European Central Bank, meanwhile, looks increasingly likely to start cutting rates in June. In Europe, a Ukrainian drone attack set an oil refinery in Russia’s Kaluga region on fire, RIA state news agency reported on Friday, the latest salvo from Kyiv in what has become a series of tit-for-tat attacks on energy infrastructure. Conflict in the Middle East also continues after Israeli forces bombarded areas of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Thursday, according to Palestinian residents, after a lack of progress in the latest round of negotiations to halt hostilities in Gaza. The potential remains for broader conflagration in the region, particularly from Iran, a supporter of Palestinian group Hamas and a key oil producer. 3rd party Ad. Not an offer or recommendation . See disclosure here or
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.”Israel’s groundwork for an intervention in Rafah and growing tensions on its northern border are a reminder that geopolitical risks could persist through all of Q2 2024, at least,” Citi analysts said in a note. However, the bank expects prices to ease through 2024, with Brent averaging $86 a barrel in the second quarter and $74 in the third quarter amid signs that global oil demand growth “appears to be moderating”.