Oil prices jumped more than 12 percent to near $39 a barrel on Thursday after U.S. government data showed an unexpected fall in crude inventories last week due to lower imports.

The draw snapped a seven-week streak of crude builds in the world's top consumer, where the slumping economy has dragged down fuel demand.

U.S. crude futures for March delivery, which expires on Friday, rose $4.24 to $38.86 a barrel by 14:31 p.m. EST after touching $39.85 earlier. April delivery contracts traded up $2.40 to $39.81 a barrel.

London Brent for April delivery gained $2.18 to $41.73 a barrel.

Crude stocks made a surprise fall here as imports were down and refinery activity was up, said Amanda Kurzendoerfer, commodity analyst at Summit Energy. We'll have to see if the import decline is the start of a trend as OPEC is really doing a lot to carry out output cuts.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to a series of deep output cuts in the second half of 2008 to counter the steep drop in oil prices from record highs over $147 a barrel in July.

The drop in demand has helped push up U.S. oil stocks by around 20 percent since September. The EIA data showed gasoline and distillate demand rising slightly over the four-week period ending February 13, compared with year-ago levels.

The gains in oil prices came after a poor economic data hit the U.S. stock market.

The number of U.S. workers drawing unemployment aid jumped to a record high in early February, according to data on Thursday that highlighted the deterioration in the labor market as the 13-month recession deepened.

Japan and South Korea struggled to revive economies hit by collapsing exports, Russian unemployment soared and Britain's budget deficit reached a record high.

(Reporting by Matthew Robinson, Gene Ramos, and Robert Gibbons in New York and Joe Brock in London; Editing by Christian Wiessner)