Oil ends volatile week above $94 per barrel

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Oil prices rose slightly Friday as concerns about the European financial crisis were balanced by improving jobs data in the U.S.

Benchmark crude rose 19 cents to end the week at $94.26 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude rose $1.14 to finish at $111.97 a barrel in London.

Benchmark oil prices have climbed sharply in the last month because of lower supplies and rising demand in the Midwest. Tighter supplies tend to lift prices, but analyst and trader Stephen Schork said the increase also has been fueled by a general "euphoria" that the U.S. seems to have avoided another recession.

Economic data in the U.S. this week has been encouraging. On Friday the Labor Department said that the economy added 80,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate fell to 9 percent.

"It's a very confusing time," Schork said. While the U.S. economy shows signs of improvement, manufacturing appears to be slowing down in China and Japan, "but the market is going up regardless."

Petroleum demand in the U.S. has been weak all year, with oil and gasoline consumption falling last week by 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, according to the latest government figures. Motorists are using less gas, so refineries have increasingly turned to overseas markets to supplement their domestic business.

Pump prices have been falling since the summer driving season, but they're still at a record high for this time of year and eventually could go higher. The national average was $3.42 per gallon on Friday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Experts predict gasoline will hit the $4 level again early next year.

Oil prices wavered Friday after leaders of the world's 20 most powerful economies, meeting in Cannes, France, failed to find ways to strengthen the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is expected to be the lender of last resort for Greece and other European nations. Greece is battling massive government debt, and investors fear a default could lead to bank failures across the continent. European leaders are trying to keep Greece's financial troubles from destabilizing the eurozone, but it's unclear whether Greece will follow through with a debt reduction plan that was hammered out last month.

Analysts expect eurozone businesses to spend less and the European economy to slow. That will not only cut energy consumption in Europe, it'll shrink energy demand in China and other nations that export consumer goods. "If their economy is in a shambles, then Chinese manufacturing is going to be hit," PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said. "And that really affects oil demand."

China, the world's second-largest oil consumer behind the U.S., is expected to drive world oil demand growth in coming years.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 3.26 cents to finish at $3.0707 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose 2.16 cents to finish at $2.6634 per gallon. Natural gas rose less than a penny to end the week at $3.783 per 1,000 cubic feet.


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.



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