Sun, Aug 05, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Oil prices fall as US jobs data outweigh production worries


Energy futures fell on Friday as news of a cooling job market in the US outweighed concerns about tight oil supplies.

The US Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent last month, a six-month high. That suggests the US economy might be slowing, which could lower demand for oil and gasoline.

"The jobs outlook ended up being a little bit softer," said Chip Hodge, energy portfolio manager at John Hancock Financial Securities in Boston.

Partly offsetting the impact of the jobs data were fresh comments from OPEC suggesting the oil cartel won't boost production when it meets next month.

"The expectation that OPEC members will not increase output until their scheduled meeting next month, and rumors that the exporting group could keep its production target unchanged after the meeting, are supporting prices," Vienna's PVM Oil Associates said.

Light, sweet crude for September delivery fell US$1.38 to settle at US$75.48 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. While crude futures set new price records above US$78 this week, they ended the week US$1.54 a barrel, or 2 percent, lower.

September gasoline fell US$0.0072 to settle US$2.029 a gallon (US$0.53601 a liter) on the NYMEX after alternating several times between gains and losses. September Brent crude lost US$1.01 to settle at US$74.75 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

At the pump, meanwhile, US gasoline prices fell an additional US$0.007 overnight to a national average of US$2.858 a gallon, the AAA and the Oil Price Information Service said. Gas prices peaked at US$3.227 a gallon in late May, following futures higher on concerns refiners weren't making enough gas to meet demand.

Those concerns have since been relieved by several weeks of growing refinery output and rising gasoline inventories. Gas futures and retail prices have fallen steeply in recent weeks.

"The products market certainly has made its high for the season," said James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group in Tampa, Florida.

In other NYMEX trading, September heating oil fell US$0.0406 to settle at US$2.034 a gallon, and natural gas settled US$0.016 lower at US$6.09 per 1,000 cubic feet (US$0.21507 per cubic meter).

Oil prices tend to peak in the summer, then slide in the fall. Last year, for instance, oil dropped nearly US$20 between early August and early October.

This year, oil prices have run up to new records even as the fundamental market factors supporting them have eroded.

Declines in crude oil inventories as refineries increase output have been cited as a fundamental reason for the price increases. But many analysts criticize such reasoning.

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