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Sector Snap: Oil Cos.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of energy companies got a boost Tuesday from a jump in oil prices that stemmed from housing market gains and climbing stock prices.

Benchmark oil for March delivery rose $1, or 1 percent, to $97.44 a barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil hasn't closed above $97 in New York since Sept. 14.

The price of oil is now up more than $5 a barrel this year, helped by signs of improvement in the overall economy.

Barclays analyst Rahim Karim said he thinks the latest increase in oil prices could be a sign of things to come, noting that rather being prompted by a single news event, the gains appear to be the result of a combination of factors.

In a note to investors, Karim pointed to a strong recovery in Chinese demand, along with pockets of political instability that add elements of uncertainty to the global oil supply and continue to prop up higher prices.

Meanwhile, a report Tuesday showed U.S. home prices in November had the biggest year-over-year increase in six years. That added to evidence showing that the U.S. housing market is recovering and outweighed a separate report indicating that higher taxes and an uncertain economic picture are sapping consumers' confidence.

Also on Tuesday, a federal judge approved an agreement for BP PLC to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties for the company's role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In afternoon trading, BP's U.S. shares rose 75 cents to $45.10; while U.S. shares of Total SA added 88 cents to $54.16. Royal Dutch Shell PLC added $1.05 to $72.64; and Marathon Oil Corp. rose 45 cents to $33.97.