Oil price lower ahead of jobs report

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2011 3:50 PM
Oil price lower ahead of jobs report

Oil prices ended slightly lower Thursday after a four-day surge, as traders await a key U.S. jobs report.

Benchmark crude fell 16 cents to finish at $100.20 per barrel in New York. Brent crude lost $1.27 to end the day at $108.71 in London.

Prices had risen every trading day since Thanksgiving. They were boosted by tension over Iran's nuclear program, strong retail sales in the U.S. and an effort by the Federal Reserve and central banks of other nations to increase the flow of dollars to foreign banks.

Now traders are awaiting the November unemployment report, which will be released by the Labor Department on Friday. High unemployment has been a drag on the economy and has cut into energy demand. Wholesale gasoline demand in November was at the lowest level in more than seven years.

"Everything's on hold right now," PFGBest analyst and oil trader Phil Flynn said. "We're a little worried about what those jobs numbers will be tomorrow."

Government data released Thursday suggested that the U.S. jobs market remains weak. The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits rose above 400,000 last week for the first time in a month, the Labor Department said. Applications would need to fall below 375,000 for an extended period to cut into the nation's 9 percent unemployment rate.

Other reports gave a better reading on the economy. Manufacturing activity in the U.S. rose in November to a seven-month high. Auto makers including Chrysler, General Motors and Ford reported big increases in sales last month. And builders spent more in October on homes, offices and shopping centers, though construction spending remains anemic compared with previous years.

Meanwhile, concerns about Iran continued to simmer. German authorities said Thursday they're investigating reports that Iran has been planning attacks on American targets in Germany. Iran was sharply criticized by Western nations this week after radical students attacked the British embassy in Teheran on Tuesday. They were protesting possible sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program.

Iran is the world's third-largest oil exporter. Most of its crude goes to Asia. An embargo by European countries would likely have little impact and is viewed as unlikely by analysts.

At the pump, retail gasoline prices slipped by less than a penny to $3.292 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular is about 69 cents cheaper than it was at its peak this year, near $4 per gallon, but it's still almost 43 cents higher than at the same time last year.

In other energy trading, natural gas prices jumped 9.8 cents, or 2.8 percent, to end at $3.648 per 1,000 cubic feet, after the government reported an unexpected decline in U.S. supplies last week.

Heating oil fell by 5.56 cents to end at $2.9695 per gallon, and gasoline futures were virtually unchanged, finishing the day at $2.5579 per gallon.