Crude oil futures capped an aggressive week-long selloff with 2.6% decline to an eight-week low, aided by further strength in the dollar.
After the third-biggest dollar-for-dollar decline since futures trading began in 1983 took prices below $100 on Thursday, crude rallied above $102 a barrel after news of stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs growth in April. The Labor Department said the economy added 244,000 jobs in April, up from an increase of 221,000 a month earlier. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a rise of 185,000.
But the rally was short-lived, as traders focused on a surprise rise in the unemployment rate, the first gain since November. The jobless rate rose to 9% from 8.8% in March, while it was expected to hold steady.
Light, sweet crude oil for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $2.62 to settle at $97.18 a barrel, matching the eight-week low of March 15. The price fell $16.75 a barrel, or 14.7% in the week. The steep fall came as non-commercial inventors, like funds, held their a record high net long position in Nymex crude futures and options, meaning they were anticipating further gains in prices.
"The bullish sentiment evaporated rather rapidly," said Gene McGillian, a broker with Tradition Energy, commenting on the volatile trading Friday and throughout the week.
With the floor knocked from the market as prices tumbled from near $115 to below $95 intraday this week, McGillian said it was difficult to find equilibrium. "It's tough to get a good feel," he said.
Several analysts said underlying global trends look bullish down the road, but the wave of weakness held the day. The euro tumbled against the dollar amid a report that Greece was considering leaving the 17-nation European currency bloc. Newfound strength in the dollar helped push investors in dollar-based commodities, like silver and oil, to the exits this week.
Analyst Jim Ritterbusch said crude prices may have to drop to $92 a barrel, last seen in mid-February, before finding strong buying interest. Goldman Sachs said prices are likely to recover to current levels or higher by this time next year, especially as Libyan oil supplies are likely to remain curtailed by civil war.
Rising crude oil inventories in the U.S., the world's biggest oil consumer, and sliding demand for gasoline as retail prices runup toward highs above $4 a gallon, have kept the skids under prices.
Reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for June delivery dropped 0.53 cent, or 0.2%, to settle at $3.0901 a gallon, the lowest price since March 30. Prices fell 30.8 cents, with declines in each day of the week, amounting to a 9.1% drop from a week earlier. The price suggest a retail price below $3.75 a gallon, last seen a month ago.
June heating oil futures prices fell 4.12 cents, or 1.4%, to $2.8457 a gallon, the lowest price since Feb. 22. Prices plunged 43 cents, or 13.1% from a week ago.