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Crude Oil Futures Settle Higher as U.S. Jobs Market Improves

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NEW YORK--Oil futures rose to their highest level all week Friday, as positive U.S. jobs data lifted hopes for higher oil demand.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery settled 39 cents, or 0.4%, higher at $91.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange recently fell 32 cents, or 0.3%, to $110.82 a barrel.

Futures got a boost after the Labor Department said employers added 236,000 jobs in February, far more than the 160,000 forecast by economists. Unemployment fell 0.2 percentage point to 7.7%, the lowest level since the end of 2008.

The data is closely watched in the oil market because the health of the job market in the U.S.--the world's biggest oil consumer--is closely correlated with crude-oil demand.

"This number is a big step," said Carl Larry, head of the oil-trading advisory firm Oil Outlooks and Opinions. "I don't think anybody expected that."

Futures were lower prior to the 8:30 a.m. EST data, then pared their losses throughout the day to end the session in positive territory. Market observers said a late-session rally in the gasoline market also helped pull crude-oil prices higher.

"Crude markets were definitely following the gasoline move today," said Michael Truscelli, broker at oil options brokerage Paramount Options in New York. "There was a lot of interest at the end of the day."

Front-month April reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 8.02 cents, or 2.6%,, higher at $3.2035 a gallon.

A steadily improving jobs market has buoyed the oil market in recent months, although steadily rising domestic production and uncertain global demand has kept prices in check.

Oil futures failed to keep up with the sharp rally staged by equities, as the payrolls data sent investors snapping up another asset: the U.S. dollar. A stronger dollar typically weighs on oil prices because it makes the dollar-denominated commodity more expensive for holders of other currencies.

The ICE Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, shot to its highest level since early August, recently rising 0.9% to 82.804.

April heating oil settled 0.46 cent, or 0.2%, lower at $2.9749 a gallon.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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