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Oil prices edged up to their highest in over two years in volatile trade on Thursday, on optimism for strong economic demand after new U.S. unemployment claims fell to their lowest since the country’s first wave of COVID-19 last year.

The market shook off a brief plunge after media reports suggested the United States lifted sanctions on Iranian oil officials.

The U.S. Treasury later said it had removed sanctions on three former Iranian officials and on two companies previously involved in trading Iranian petrochemical products. A U.S. official told Reuters that the activity was “routine” and not related to talks with Iran over reviving the 2015 deal to restrict its nuclear weapons development.

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Brent futures rose 16 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $72.38 a barrel by 1:24 p.m. EDT (1724 GMT), while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 14 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $70.10.

That puts Brent on track for its highest close since May 2019 and WTI on track for its highest settle since October 2018.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly 15 months, while consumer prices increased solidly in May as the pandemic’s grip on the economy continues to ease.

“The recent unemployment and labour data published in the (United States) are a definite positive sign that the recovery in the country is speeding up,” Louise Dickson, analyst at Rystad Energy, said.

“More business activity means more energy consumption, and a better economy is a needed prerequisite for road and air traffic to increase.”

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said oil demand would rise by 6.6 per cent, or 5.95 million barrels per day (bpd), this year. The monthly forecast was unchanged for a second consecutive month.

Libya’s Waha Oil Co aims to return to normal output operations on Thursday after fixing a leak on a pipeline that more than halved the company’s oil production, an oil source at the Es Sider crude export terminal said.

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