The price of oil rose Thursday to above $94 US a barrel, propelled by a rebound in China's trade growth and an encouraging start to the U.S. corporate earnings season.

Crude for February delivery rose as much as 1.7 per cent, to $94.70, before falling back to close up 72 cents at $93.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slipped 5 cents to end at $93.10 per barrel in New York on Wednesday.

The Canadian dollar was also higher. The commodity-sensitive currency had gained 0.38 of a cent to 101.63 cents US at mid-afternoon. 

Data released Thursday showed China's export growth in December more than quadrupled from the previous month's level to 14 per cent. Imports rose six per cent, after failing to grow at all in November, in a sign of increasing domestic demand.

Analysts also pointed to an eight per cent year-on-year rise in China's imports of crude oil in December and a 6.8 per cent increase for all of 2012.

The data was a boost for energy prices, since a pickup in economic activity in the world's second-largest economy could boost demand for oil.

China 'key driver' of demand

"China has thus underpinned its status as a key driver of global oil demand," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

In the U.S., corporate reporting season began with better-than-expected results. That helped lift stock markets and energy prices followed.

Companies are sitting on record cash piles, having rebuilt their balance sheets following the financial crisis that started five years ago.

Ford rose two per cent after the company said it would double its quarterly dividend to 10 cents. Ford reinstated its dividend nine months ago after financial difficulties forced it to suspend its dividend five years ago.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank predict that corporations will stop adding to those cash piles this year and instead start returning more cash to shareholders, helping push the S&P 500 up to 1,575 by the end of the year.

That would be a 10 per cent increase from where it ended 2012.

With files from The Canadian Press