PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press The price of oil was holding above $99 a barrel Monday on optimism that stronger than anticipated U.S. economic growth would help boost demand. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery was down 14 cents at $99.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Trading was far thinner than usual because of the approaching holidays. On Friday, the Nymex contract added 28 cents to close at $99.32 a barrel. Last week, oil rose nearly 3 percent, largely because of signs of improvement in the U.S. economy. The last time oil closed above $100 a barrel was Oct. 18. The government said Friday that the U.S. economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September. That was the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed. Prices were also supported by violence in eastern Africa, where ethnic rivalries after an attempted coup in South Sudan have led to over 1,000 deaths and 100,000 internal refugees during the past week. “South Sudan has been recently producing at about 230,000 barrels a day, with most of the crude oil exports heading to China,” said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland. Brent crude, a benchmark used to price international crudes used by many U.S. refiners, was down 12 cents at $111.65. In other energy futures trading: — Wholesale gasoline was down 0.68 cent to $2.778 a gallon. — Heating oil lost 0.75 cent to $3.0627 a gallon. — Natural gas added 8.3 cents to $4.501 per thousand cubic feet.