Oil prices rose toward $59 on Friday as European equities opened higher, shrugging off gloomy German economic data and a firmer dollar.

Europe's main stock indexes started stronger on Friday despite data showing Germany's gross domestic product (GDP) plunged by a record 3.8 percent quarter on quarter in the first three months of the year, much worse than expected.

U.S. crude for June delivery rose 20 cents to $58.82 a barrel at 3:02 a.m., but London Brent for July delivery fell 9 cents to $58.50 in its first session of trade as the new front-month contract.

Crude prices were just a notch higher from last week's close, after moving in lockstep with the stock market and rising against a bearish report by the IEA a day earlier.

Equities and currency are most important. The $60 price level is also very important, Tetsu Emori, a fund manager at Tokyo-based Astmax Co Ltd, said.

The dollar gained against the euro after the release of Germany's disappointing GDP numbers. A stronger dollar makes oil more expensive and less attractive to holders of other currencies.

U.S. oil prices breached $60 a barrel during intraday trading on Tuesday but settled below $59 after the U.S. Department of Energy slashed its 2009 oil demand forecast.

Oil prices have been tracking equities markets in recent months as traders look to stocks for signs of an economic recovery that could lift ailing world fuel demand.

While Germany's GDP figures weighed on optimism for the economy, preliminary data out of France showed the country's first-quarter GDP met expectations, falling 1.2 percent from the previous quarter.

I don't expect oil demand to recover any time soon, Astmax's Emori said.

Paris-based IEA, an adviser to 28 industrialized nations on energy policy, forecast a day earlier that world oil demand this year would fall the most since 1981.

IEA said the rise in oil prices to a six-month high above $60 this week was due to sentiment rather than fundamentals.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration and OPEC also cut their forecasts for energy demand in recent days.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which has announced 4.2 million bpd of production cuts since September in a bid to tighten the market, also pumped more oil last month than in March, the IEA said.

OPEC members' compliance with production quotas fell to 78 percent in April from 83 percent a month earlier.

Traders will take cues from more economic indicators out of the United States due later in the day, as well as renewed unrest in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer.

Nigerian militants have hijacked two cargo ships in the Niger Delta and given oil companies until Saturday to evacuate staff, warning they would attack helicopters and planes after the deadline, after heavy clashes with the military.

U.S. economic data expected later include April consumer price index, the Reuters/University of Michigan survey of May consumer sentiment and ECRI weekly index of economic activity.

(Editing by Ben Tan)