NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brent crude prices rose to a near three-month peak on Friday in heavy volume trading after a report showed the U.S. economy in January created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months, fueling hopes of stronger demand in the top petroleum-consuming nation.
Both Brent and U.S. crude extended gains late as the euro recovered against the dollar and as oil investors covered short positions ahead of the weekend, eyeing simmering tensions between tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Oil had initially rallied ahead of the jobs report after Iran’s supreme leader warned of retaliation over “threats of oil embargo and war.”
“The euro came back and there were shorts being covered ahead of the weekend with the situations in Iran and Greece still out there,” said Stephen Schork, president at the Schork Group.
Brent March crude rose $2.51 to settle at $114.58 a barrel, a fourth straight rise and the highest settlement since November 8. For the week, Brent was up 2.8 percent.
U.S. crude futures, snapping a string of five straight lower settlements, rose $1.48 to settlement $97.84 a barrel. But it posted a 1.73 percent weekly loss.
Brent crude trading volume was 28 percent above the 30-day average, with U.S. turnover 30 percent above its 30-day average in post-settlement trading.
Brent/U.S. crude spread was at $16.74 a barrel based on Friday settlements, having briefly moved above its 200-day moving average just above $17, the biggest Brent premium to its U.S. counterpart since the intraday high of $18.80 reached on November 9.
Speculators cut their net long positions in U.S. crude oil futures and options in the week to January 31, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed.
U.S. gasoline and heating oil also rose as a refinery problem in the Midwest and the cold snap in Europe added support, along with the positive jobs report.
News late in the session that exports from Iraq’s southern hub Basra were halved by bad weather on Friday added support, sources said.
U.S. nonfarm payrolls jumped by 243,000 in January, more than the expected gain of 150,000. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.3 percent.
“The jobs number came much better than expected and gave the (crude) market a nice pop, but the question will be whether this is really a reflection of the entire economy,” said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
“We’ll be watching to see if the rally in the Brent/WTI spread starts to top out, because the fundamentals in the EIA data (rising stockpiles, weak demand) are still there.”
U.S. crude stockpiles have risen two consecutive weeks, according to Energy Information Administration data released Wednesday and gasoline demand continued to trend below year-ago levels.
Gasoline stockpiles also rose last week despite a drop in refinery utilization and rise in refined products imports.
U.S. stocks rose and the jobs report helped propel the Nasdaq index to an 11-year high and key industrial feedstock copper jumped nearly 3 percent as the employment report sparked optimism about economic growth across markets.
Crude’s rise came even as the dollar index .DXY initially strengthened on Friday, before pulling back. A stronger dollar can pressure crude prices because it increases the cost of oil for consumers using other currencies.
Additional reporting by Gene Ramos in New York, Zaida Espana in London and Manash Goswami in Singapore; editing by Jim Marshall and Lisa Shumaker