Oil prices steadied at $60 a barrel on Thursday after a six-day slide as a drop in U.S. jobless claims fueled optimism about the economy.

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level since January, but the seasonally adjusted data was distorted by an unusual pattern of layoffs in the automotive industry.

U.S. crude traded up 3 cents to $60.17 a barrel by 12:47 p.m. EDT, after falling from over $71 in the previous six trading sessions.

London Brent crude gained 33 cents to trade at $60.76 a barrel.

This morning's bounce served notice that the equity and currency markets remain as formidable price influences to the oil, said Jim Ritterbusch, President of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois.

The crude, stock market and U.S. dollar are maintaining some correlation to reflect an expansion and contraction in risk appetite as additional economic input is received.

The yen and the U.S. dollar, which have seen support this week from risk aversion, fell following the decline in U.S. jobs claims, lending some support to commodities denominated in the greenback. U.S. stocks traded higher. <.N>

The International Monetary Fund said the global economy is slowly starting to pull out of its deepest recession since World War Two but a recovery will be sluggish and policies need to remain supportive.

Big European energy consumer Germany said on Thursday it may have already emerged from recession.

Optimism an economic turnaround could boost flagging global oil demand lifted crude off lows below $33 a barrel hit in December, but weak fundamentals have begun to weigh.

Weekly inventory data from top consumer the United States showed another build in gasoline stocks in the midst of the summer driving season. Inventories of distallates, including diesel, an indicator of industrial demand, neared 25-year highs.

Fuel stocks held the two oil firms in the world's second largest consumer China rose moderately in June for the second month in a row due to high refinery runs and tepid consumption.

Saudi Arabia was expected to maintain supply levels to customers in August, although two big refiners would receive significantly less crude, trade sources, said.

The world's top exporter has throttled back on crude shipments as part of a series of production cutback agreed by OPEC last year to help support oil prices.

(Reporting by Matthew Robinson and Gene Ramos in New York; David Sheppard in London; Editing by David Gregorio)