Oil markets in the US and Europe consolidated gains this week, pushing above $90 a barrel supported by ongoing cold weather conditions as 2010 draws to a close.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contracts rose above $90 a barrel, ending the day at $90.720 a barrel, up $3.42 a barrel from 19 December when it was valued at $88.30 a barrel.

The European crude oil market also moved further up with Brent crude prices reaching $93.79 a barrel, up $1.80 a barrel from $91.99 a barrel. This is the highest level seen since October 2008.

The 12-crude basket of exports from the member states of the international oil producers group, Opec has stuck closely to $88 a barrel recently, but rose again, averaging $89.07 a barrel for the week ending 24 December. This is up $0.32 a barrel on the previous week, which settled at $88.39 a barrel.

According to the US’ Energy Information Administration (EIA), crude oil prices have been supported by strengthening global demand for products. US gasoline demand has increased compared with the previous year, for six consecutive months, the longest such stretch since 2007.

Over the last month, spot WTI prices have increased about $8 a barrel to just under $89 per barrel, the EIA reports, as “the market has become more confident that strong global oil demand growth will continue into 2011”.

According to analysts at the UK’s Barclays Capital, 2010 has been characterised primarily by “phenomenal upside demand surprise”, which even the most optimistic in the market had not expected. Inventories have drawn down quickly and the market has been left at its tightest for more than two years.

The fourth quarter has seen Chinese oil demand accelerate. Consumption data for November showed demand at a record high of 9.33 million barrels a day (b/d), the analysts said in a 22 December report. This is 14 per cent on the previous year’s consumption.