Oil soars to 2-year high on cold, weak dollar

NEW YORK Fri Dec 3, 2010 4:46pm EST

A motorist pumps petrol at a gas station in Kuala Lumpur July 15, 2010. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

A motorist pumps petrol at a gas station in Kuala Lumpur July 15, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. oil prices rose to a 25-month high on Friday, the third straight rise, as a weaker U.S. dollar spurred commodities investment and cold weather in Europe and the U.S. Northeast lifted heating fuel futures.

The euro rallied versus the dollar after the U.S. government said nonfarm payrolls increased much less than expected and the unemployment rate rose to a seven-month peak.

Plunging temperatures in Europe and colder weather in parts of the United States prompted a surge in demand for heating oil and other heating fuels.

U.S. crude futures for January rose $1.19 to settle at $89.19 a barrel, the highest close since October 7, 2008, bouncing after an early decline on the weak jobs data.

Prices rose 6 percent over three days, the biggest such percentage increase since the three days to Oct 1.

For the week, U.S. crude rose 6.48 percent, a second straight weekly gain and the best percentage gain since the 6.66-percent boost in the week to November 5.

Total U.S. crude trading volume was above 790,000 on Friday, with less than an hour of post-settlement trading left, 30 percent above the 30-day average.

ICE Brent crude futures traded up $1.12 to $91.80, after setting a fresh two-year high of $91.85.

"Today's crude prices are up with support from higher heating oil on the back of cold weather both here in the U.S. and in Europe and the weakened dollar, which has also encouraged buying," said Andy Lebow of MF Global in New York.

Twelve people froze to death in Poland overnight and air, rail and road traffic across Northern Europe remained badly disrupted by snow and ice on Friday.

The U.S. National Weather Service, in its eight to 14-day outlook issued on Thursday, called for below-normal temperatures for much of the eastern half of the country, which includes the world's largest regional market for heating oil.

Front-month U.S. heating oil rose 1.3 percent on Friday.

The U.S. dollar .DXY fell about 1.4 percent against a basket of foreign currencies on Friday, as the jobs report weighed on the greenback and the euro was supported by more confidence that Europe can eventually solve its debt crisis. <USD/>

Oil and dollar-denominated commodities often move inversely to the dollar. A weaker dollar typically lifts oil prices as it lowers the value of greenbacks paid to producers while making it less expensive for oil consumers using other currencies.

U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose a less-than-expected 39,000 in November, the Labor Department said. The unemployment rate was increased to 9.8 percent.

"That was a very bad number," said Thorbjrn Bak Jensen with Global Risk Management in Denmark.

Economists had expected payrolls to increase 140,000 last month and the unemployment rate to be flat at 9.6 percent.

BANKS GIVE BULLISH VIEWS

At least four major banks boosted longer-term outlooks for oil prices this week, with one of the most bullish, Goldman Sachs, calling for U.S. crude futures to rise to $100 a barrel next year, as global economies rebound faster than expected.

Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Societe Generale also boosted their oil price outlooks this week.

But the disappointing U.S. jobs report was not the only factor that might fuel investor caution.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that top Communist Party leaders have decided China will switch to a "prudent" monetary policy from a moderately loose stance. This could prompt interest rate increases and lending controls.

China recently raised bank reserve requirements as part of an effort to cool inflation. Oil investors and analysts have noted that demand growth in the No. 2 oil consumer would most likely be curbed if interest rates are increased.

(Additional reporting by Gene Ramos in New York and Ikuko Kurahone in London; Editing by David Gregorio)