Brent crude, the global benchmark, rises above $31 a barrel but remains near lows last seen nearly 12 years ago
Oil prices rose for the first time in eight days on Wednesday as positive Chinese trade data and an unexpected draw in weekly US crude oil inventories gave investors reasons to buy crude futures.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 63 cents at $31.49 a barrel at 1151 GMT, but remained near lows last seen nearly 12 years ago.
US West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) was up 69 cents at $31.13 a barrel, recovering from Tuesday's dip below $30.
"The API inventory data triggered a profit-taking wave, that's the main reason for this uptick," said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro in Amsterdam.
"But the overall sentiment is still negative, meaning downside risk is still greater than upside potential."
US crude stocks fell unexpectedly last week, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.
Crude inventories fell by 3.9 million barrels in the week to 480.071 million, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 2.5 million barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery hub fell by 302,000 barrels, the API said.
China reported exports dipped just 1.4 percent in US dollar terms in December, compared to forecasts of an 8 percent drop, positively surprising world markets.
The world's second-biggest oil consumer has also been taking advantage of the oil price rout to stock reserves and increase exports of refined products, and may be set to overtake the United States as the world's largest importer.
But the bearish outlook for oil remains. Analysts at Morgan Stanley warned on Wednesday that a rise in demand for crude could be lower than previously expected.
"Any slowing in the rate of demand growth could delay the timing of rebalancing and ultimately a price recovery," they said in a research note.
The potential for the calling of an emergency OPEC meeting also weakened on Wednesday when Iran's oil minister was quoted as saying he had not received any request for such a gathering.
Nigeria's oil minister said on Tuesday that a "couple" of OPEC members had asked for an emergency meeting.
Days ahead of the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers, Iran briefly detained a group of U.S. sailors after they entered Iranian waters.
Iran released the sailors on Wednesday after holding them overnight, determining they had entered Iranian waters by mistake.