SINGAPORE (AFP) - Oil prices rose in Asia on Monday as strong US economic data brought cheer to the markets, analysts said. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in January, rose seven cents to 88.09 dollars per barrel in the afternoon on its last trading day. Brent North Sea crude for February delivery gained nine cents to 91.76 dollars. Crude markets were building on gains made on Friday as trader sentiment was buoyed by the strong US figures, analysts said. "In general we've been seeing economic data from the US being better than expected, and this has helped to boost oil prices," said Ong Yi Ling, investment analyst for Phillip Futures in Singapore. The US said that initial jobless claims fell to almost the lowest level of the year at 420,000 in the week ending Dec 11, down 3,000 from the previous week's revised reading of 423,000. The decline confounded analysts' forecasts of a rise to 425,000, from the initially estimated reading of 421,000 for the week ending December 4. US housing starts also leapt 3.9 percent from October to an annual rate of 555,000 units, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. The numbers cheered crude markets as they indicated that the economy of the world's biggest oil consumer was steadily improving. Oil was also lifted after Congress approved late on Thursday the extension of a sweeping tax cuts and jobless benefits deal that analysts expect to boost US growth in 2011. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law shortly after markets closed on Friday.