Oil prices edged higher in Asian trade today following upbeat global economic data but a lack of fresh leads was curbing further gains, analysts said.

New York’s West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery rose three cents to $99.77 a barrel in late-morning trade and Brent North Sea crude for May was up four cents at $105.66.

Analysts said that the crude oil prices were tracking gains in the Asian markets today, following the release of upbeat reports on manufacturing in China, Europe and the United States yesterday.

China’s PMI

China reported an uptick in its official purchasing managers index (PMI) in March after hitting an eight-month low in February.

Markit Economics said its eurozone PMI for March stood at 53.0. The figure is down from February’s 53.2 but the average reading over the first quarter as a whole was 53.4. A reading above 50 denotes expansion, while anything below points to contraction.

Later, the US Institute for Supply Management also said its PMI hit 53.7 from 53.2 the previous month.

French bank Credit Agricole said “sentiment in the global market continued to be supported” following the robust economic data.

But “we expect range-trading for Asian markets today. There is no important data out from Asia today”, it said.

US inventory report

Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said that investors are also awaiting the US Government’s weekly oil inventories report out later today, which is expected to show a build of 2.5 million barrels.

A rise in US stockpiles indicates weak demand in the world’s biggest crude consumer, which would in turn put downward pressure on prices.

Ukraine crisis

Investors are also continuing to monitor the tense situation in Ukraine, as NATO had said yesterday that it has suspended all cooperation with Russia and questioned Moscow’s claim to have withdrawn troops along the Ukraine border.

Russia provides about a quarter of Europe’s natural gas supplies, with about 80 per cent of those exports travelling through pipelines in Ukraine.

Russian troops are massed on the borders of eastern Ukraine, sparking fears about Moscow’s plans after its takeover of the Crimean peninsula last month.