NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices jumped more than 4 percent Monday, reaching the highest level in more than two months, on signs of economic growth in the U.S. and Asia.

After bracing for a possible recession in the U.S. and Europe, analysts say investors have changed course. They’re now trading with the expectation that Western economies will keep growing this year - albeit slowly. As the economy strengthens, demand for oil rises to run factories and fill drivers’ gas tanks.

“The market was being held back by fear” of a recession, PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said. “We haven’t seen stellar economic numbers so far, (but) they haven’t been recessionary.”

Benchmark crude rose $3.87, or 4.4 percent, to finish at $91.27 per barrel in New York. Prices haven’t been above $91 per barrel since August 5. Brent crude rose $1.89 to end at $111.45 a barrel in London.

Prices rose after news of a string of acquisitions and a better profit forecast from Caterpillar sparked a rally on Wall Street. The Dow jones industrial average and the S&P 500 were up about 1 percent. The Nasdaq was up more than 2 percent.

HSBC said that China’s manufacturing sector continues to expand. The bank’s measure of industrial production showed Chinese manufacturing activity increased from last month. Energy demand tends to rise as factories crank into a higher gear. Analysts took the report as a sign that China, the second biggest oil consumer behind the U.S., will continue to drive increases in world oil demand this year.

Japan said exports rose 2.4 percent last month, as its economy recovers from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.

Meanwhile European financial leaders planned to boost the eurozone’s bailout fund to help keep banks in Italy and Spain from being engulfed in the region’s debt crisis. The European Financial Stability Fund is designed to insure banks against potential losses and to keep money flowing through the economy.

Gasoline pump prices fell less than a penny on Monday to a national average of $3.451 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular has fallen more than 53 cents since peaking near $4 per gallon in May. It’s still about 63 cents higher than it was a year ago.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 3.83 cents to finish at $3.0542 per gallon and gasoline futures increased 1.21 cents to end at $2.6703 per gallon. Natural gas fell 2.5 cents to finish the day at $3.604 per 1,000 cubic feet.

© 2011 The Associated Press