Oil held steady above $79 a barrel on Thursday as the dollar held near 15-month lows against a basket of currencies, while investors waited for U.S. government oil data for direction before taking more positions.

Rising Asian shares and gold's surge to a record high also helped to prevent a fall in prices despite expectations of a rise in crude stockpiles in the world's biggest energy consumer.

The market is adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Certainly the market looks to be overly overbought and what's holding it up is the continuing weak dollar, said Mark Pervan, senior commodities analysts at ANZ.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration data, delayed by a day because of the Veteran's Day holiday, is expected to show a 600,000-barrel increase in crude stockpiles in the world's top energy user.

U.S. crude futures gained 8 cents to $79.36 a barrel by 0646 GMT (1:46 a.m. EST), after closing 23 cents higher on Wednesday. Brent crude futures were up 6 cents at $78.01 a barrel.

The market has gained 77 percent so far this year but is still about 46 percent below the record high of more than $147 a barrel it hit in July last year.

Pervan also noted there was reasonably strong demand from China, as seen in the strong trade data.

Chinese crude imports hit the second-highest level in October, signaling that oil demand continues a gradual revival from a sharp slowdown in late 2008 and early this year.

The Financial Times quoted Khalid al-Falih, Chief Executive of Saudi Aramco, as saying that world oil demand could rise at a reasonable pace as the global economy recovers and oil prices in the $70s a barrel were in a healthy range.

Data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute released late on Tuesday showed a bigger-than-expected increase in U.S. crude oil stockpiles, up by 1.2 million barrels in the week to November 6.

In Europe, crude oil inventories rose in October as refiners curbed operation rates amid shrinking demand. Also backing prices was a weak dollar <.DXY>, which hovered just above a 15-month low after the Australian dollar jumped on strong jobs data.

Asian equities rose for a fifth straight day, though gains were modest. Both the MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> and the Nikkei <.N225> were up around 0.4 percent.

Gold shot up to another record at $1,121.60 an ounce on Thursday as a weaker U.S. dollar lifted its appeal as an alternative investment to currencies. Bullion has now renewed record highs for six of the past eight sessions.

A string of speeches on Tuesday by officials of the Fed -- the U.S. central bank -- reinforced the view that U.S. interest rates will remain near zero for the foreseeable future, increasing the appeal of higher-yielding assets.

Although OPEC raised its forecast for world oil demand growth slightly, the oil cartel said fuel consumption might not return to levels seen before the global economic slowdown, even if growth recovers.

In its monthly report on Wednesday, OPEC said 2010 oil demand growth would be 750,000 bpd, compared with its previous projection of 700,000 last month.

Oil companies were also quickly restoring Gulf of Mexico production shut by Tropical Storm Ida, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said.

(Editing by Sambit Mohanty)