Oil down as US unemployment claims up more than expected; market eyes jobs report

The price of oil fell Thursday as U.S. unemployment claims rose more than expected.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery fell 45 cents to close at US$97.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, although it still finished up more than $5 for the month of January, the biggest monthly increase since August.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 65 cents to US$115.55 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

The U.S. government said the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose sharply last week, although it remained at a level consistent with moderate hiring.

Traders will get a further indication about the strength of the jobs market Friday, when the U.S. Labour Department issues the closely followed monthly non-farm payrolls report.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline lost one cent to US$3.03 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), heating oil rose one cent to US$3.13 a gallon an natural gas was flat at US$3.24 per 1,000 cubic feet.