09/04/2012 08:46 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST

Oil near US$97 in Europe as speculation builds over new ECB economic stimulus

The price of oil crept up closer to US$97 a barrel on Tuesday on expectations that the European Central Bank will soon announce new measures to fight the continent's debt crisis.

By early afternoon in Europe, West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery was up 47 cents at US$96.94 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.85 to finish at US$96.47 Friday. There was no closing price Monday because of the Labour Day holiday in the U.S.

In London, Brent crude was up $1.72 at US$116.29 on the ICE Futures exchange.

The ECB's governing council is meeting Thursday and ECB President Mario Draghi is expected to reveal a new bond-buying program aimed at easing borrowing cost for countries like Spain and Italy.

The ECB's awaited announcement "is likely to prompt speculative financial investors to jump on the bandwagon and drive the (oil) price further upward," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

"The development of prices and the commitment displayed by investors are at odds with the fundamental data, which continue to suggest an oversupply," analysts at Commerzbank said. If the central banks fail to live up to expectations, oil prices are likely to drop sharply, they added.

Speculation about the ECB's stimulus measures has helped support the euro against the dollar. After dropping to near two-year lows near $1.20 at the end of July, the euro has bounced back to near $1.26. That pushes up oil prices, which are traded in dollars and becomes cheaper for holders of other currencies when the dollar drops.

Oil analyst Stephen Schork said in a report that oil prices could see "increased volatility this week" due to the loss of a trading day Monday.

The release Friday of U.S. non-farm payrolls for August, a closely watched gauge of employment in the world's No. 1 economy, also could impact prices, Schork said. He attributed recent swings in the oil price to the conflicting influences of a lower dollar and refinery disruptions in the U.S. Gulf Coast that resulted from hurricane Isaac.

While a substantial amount of oil and gas production remains offline, production is coming back as expected. No major damage to oil platforms or refineries has been reported.

In other Nymex energy futures trading, heating oil rose 2.53 cents to US$3.2055 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and wholesale gasoline was up 2.31 cents at US$2.9959 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.8 cents to US$2.771 per 1,000 cubic feet.