Crude Edges Up, Ending Choppy Session

Crude oil futures prices rose slightly Friday after a choppy day, with the market whipsawed by conflicting trends and data.

Light, sweet crude for December delivery ended the day 19 cents, or 0.2%, higher at $94.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising as high as $94.93 earlier in the session. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange ended the day $1.14, or 1.0%, higher at $111.97 a barrel.

Oil prices trended lower for most of the day, as equities fell and the dollar rose. Crude moves in tandem with equities and inversely to the dollar, as a strengthening dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies. Oil traders have paid close attention to jobs, developments in the European debt crisis and other macroeconomic data to gauge whether the fragile global recovery will continue to support crude demand.

The U.S. Labor Department's monthly jobs report offered a mixed picture of U.S. employment, with October nonfarm payrolls rising 80,000 while the unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point to 9.0%. The gain was smaller than the consensus expectation of 100,000 additional jobs, but data for the previous two months were revised higher, suggesting that the overall employment picture in the world's largest oil consumer is better than some had feared.

Taken in total, the various indicators provided little direction for the market one way or the other.

"We're just not getting anything out there today that makes anybody feel really confident," said Bill O'Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management. "There is just a lot of money on the sidelines because nobody knows what to do, and the markets are getting swung around on pretty insignificant volume. I don't think there's any long-term money going in any particular direction right now."

Volume in West Texas Intermediate contracts was 451,974, about 30% below the 200-day moving average. Analysts have been watching volumes this week as a barometer of the impact on the market from the failure of commodity brokerage MF Global, where more than 100,000 accounts were stranded by the firm's bankruptcy filing Monday. Volumes have been significantly lower than average for most of the week, but have generally been improving since the beginning of the week.

Front-month December reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled up 2.16 cents, or 0.8%, at $2.6634 a gallon. December heating oil gained 3.26 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $3.0707 a gallon.