New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for April delivery, eased two cents to $98.18 in mid-morning trade, while Brent North Sea crude rose 11 cents to $107.50 for its April contract.

"The China data and the talks about the Ukraine referendum would be the prime events affecting oil today," Desmond Chua, market strategist at CMC markets in Singapore told AFP.

China on Thursday said that its industrial output rose 8.6 percent year-on-year in the January-February period, the slowest rate since April 2009.

Retail sales, a key indicator of consumer spending, gained 11.8 percent in the two months from the year before, but this was also the slowest since in February 2011.

Crude prices, however, were supported by tensions in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, where its self-declared leaders will hold a referendum that is expected to see voters choose to split from Ukraine.

However, the West has called the vote illegal and warned Moscow of a serious backlash, with the US and EU preparing sanctions against those blamed for stirring the tensions.

But there are concerns the sanctions could disrupt oil supplies from Russia, a major energy producer and exporter of natural gas to Western Europe.

More than 70 percent of its gas and oil exports to Europe pass through Ukraine.