Crude-oil futures settled little changed near $100 a barrel Friday as weakness in the dollar offset early losses on disappointing U.S. jobs data.
Earlier losses in crude oil, spurred by unexpected gains in U.S. oil inventories, grew larger after the Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls rose by 54,000 in May, while economists expected a rise of 160,000. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1% from 9.0% a month earlier, counter to forecasts for a drop to 8.9%.
But the disappointing data and news that the International Monetary Fund and European Union were making progress on a bailout package for Greece sent the dollar down against the euro, largely offsetting the earlier losses. Weakness in the dollar makes dollar-denominated commodities, such as crude oil, cheaper for investors using foreign currencies.
Light, sweet crude oil for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled down 18 cents at $100.22 a barrel. Oil hit an early low of $98.12, the weakest intraday level since May 24, but recovered to top $100 a barrel at the settlement for the seventh-straight day. July ICE Brent crude settled 30 cents higher, at $115.84 a barrel.
"It looks like we are going to continue between $95 and $105 a barrel for a little while longer," said Gene McGillian, analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn., referring to the price range over the last month.
Traders said market participants appear to be biding time ahead of Wednesday's meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC is facing strong calls from consumer countries to boost output to relieve high prices, but hasn't given clear signals yet on what action it may take. "Next week is going to be all about OPEC," said Andy Lebow, senior vice president for energy at MF Global.
The oil market is adequately supplied now, with U.S. crude-oil inventories at two-year highs, but demand is expected to rise later in the year.
"It's hard to argue that the price will come off real significantly without a move back to recession," Lebow said. He added that he doubts oil could soon return to $85 a barrel, a level last seen in February.
The market will be watching for signs of whether Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter and de facto OPEC leader, will boost its output to cool down prices. The Saudis, who hold virtually all of the world's spare capacity, may want to keep prices higher than OPEC's loose target of around $85 a barrel, to cover the cost of massive new spending on social and military programs surrounding the unprecedented unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, Tradition's McGillian said.
Violence flared Friday in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's southern neighbor, as rebels shelled the presidential compound, wounding President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his premier and other officials. The U.S. condemned the attack, but said it wanted efforts to continue for a brokered solution backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which will force Saleh from office.
"You'd have to be a tad crazy to be really 'short,' especially with what is happening in Yemen," said Tony Rosado, a broker at GA Global Markets in New York.
July-delivery reformulated gasoline blendstock futures settled 2.54 cents a gallon higher, at $2.9931 a gallon, after dropping more than 8 cents in the previous two days on worries over weak demand and high stockpiles at the start of the U.S. summer driving season.
July heating-oil futures settled 1.28 cents higher, at $3.0567 a gallon, a one-month high. U.S. inventories of diesel and heating oil have fallen in recent weeks, when they would typically rise, in part due to strong exports. Inventories are now 8.4% below a year ago, but 7.1% above the five-year average, government data show.