* China Jan exports, imports beat expectations
* Fiery rhetoric from Iran leader spooks oil markets
* Coming up: Italy industrial output at 0900 GMT
By Ramya Venugopal
SINGAPORE, Feb 8 Brent futures rose towards $118
per barrel on Friday, heading for a fourth weekly gain as robust
trade data from China bolstered the outlook for demand, while
escalating tensions in the Middle East stoked concerns over
China's January exports and imports outpaced forecasts in a
Reuters poll, adding to evidence of a rebound in the world's
second-biggest oil consumer, although analysts are cautious
after the economy last year grew at its slowest pace since 1999.
Numbers showing China's crude oil imports rose to their
third highest daily rate on record in January also buoyed
Fiery rhetoric by Iran's supreme leader rejecting a U.S.
offer for bilateral talks added to concern that the biggest risk
factor for oil markets won't be resolved soon.
Front-month Brent futures rose 58 cents per barrel
to $117.82 at 0410 GMT. U.S. crude added 31 cents to $96.15, but
is still heading for its first loss in nine weeks.
"We have been seeing strong economic numbers ... (and this
trend) is going to underpin the oil markets for some time," said
Ben le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.
"It does not look like the tensions with Iran are going to
dissipate anytime soon. They are going to be bubbling under the
surface, which will keep a floor under the oil price."
Currently U.S.-Iran contact is limited to talks between
Tehran and a so-called P5+1 group of powers on Iran's disputed
nuclear programme which are to resume on Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan.
Adding to supply concerns is the instability in Tunisia,
located between major oil producers Algeria and Libya, where the
assassination of an opposition leader this week led to street
riots and violence.
China's strong trade data for January, the first hard
economic numbers of the year, showed a surge in exports and
imports that was not solely explained by the timing of the Lunar
New Year holiday and confirmed the rebound in the world's
Exports grew 25 percent, far outpacing analyst expectations
of a 17 percent rise, while its imports jumped nearly 29
percent, faster than the 23 percent increase expected in a
"The numbers are stronger than expected, which is an
encouraging sign," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC
Markets in Sydney. "(But) we will need to wait until March to
start getting a better sense of the medium-term trend on China."
China's crude oil imports in January rose 7.4 percent from a
year ago to 5.92 million barrels per day, the third highest
daily rate on record, official data showed, as refineries ramped
up production ahead of the Lunar New Year.
(Editing by Joseph Radford)