Oil Falls as U.S. Adds Fewer Jobs Than Forecast, Fuel Use Drops

Crude fell after a government report showed that the U.S. added fewer jobs in January than economists forecast, bolstering concern that fuel demand will slip in the world’s biggest oil-consuming country.

Futures dropped 1.7 percent after the Labor Department said employers increased payrolls by 36,000 last month. The number of workers was projected to climb by 146,000, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Gasoline stockpiles rose to the highest level in almost 18 years as demand decreased, according to an Energy Department report on Feb. 2.

“The fuel markets are weighing on crude,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “Today’s jobless numbers showed many fewer people got jobs than expected and that many others have simply given up looking for work, which raises concerns about U.S. consumer demand. We already are looking at weak demand and very high stockpiles.”

Crude oil for March delivery declined $1.51 to settle at $89.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are down 0.3 percent this week and have increased 22 percent over the past year.

Gasoline futures for March delivery tumbled 6.81 cents, or 2.7 percent, to end the session at $2.4353 a gallon in New York.

The unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent in January from 9.4 percent the previous month. The so-called underemployment rate, which includes part-time workers who’d prefer a full-time position and people who want work but have given up looking, decreased to 16.1 percent from 16.7 percent.

‘Poor Number’

“Once you get past the initial headline, the jobs report isn’t very good,” said Kyle Cooper, director of research for IAF Advisors in Houston. “A 9 percent unemployment rate is definitely better than 10 percent, but historically it’s a poor number. This shows that things still aren’t that great.”

The U.S. needs to see faster job growth for a sufficient period of time before policy makers can be assured the economic recovery has taken hold, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said yesterday in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

Supplies of gasoline rose 6.15 million barrels to 236.2 million last week, the highest level since March 1993, the Energy Department report showed. It was the biggest gain since January 2009. Inventories have climbed in 10 of the past 11 weeks.

Total fuel demand decreased 0.3 percent to 18.8 million barrels a day last week, the lowest level since November, the department said. Gasoline consumption fell 1 percent to 8.55 million barrels a day, the lowest amount since the week ended Feb. 12, 2010.

Egyptian Protest

Futures gained as much as 1.3 percent earlier today as Egyptians poured out of Friday prayer services and into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the tens of thousands as yesterday’s fighting gave way to a peaceful mass protest.

Other Arab countries gripped by instability include Yemen, where police used tear gas against protesters yesterday, and Jordan, which sacked its government this week. Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said yesterday that a 19-year-old state of emergency will be lifted “in the very near future.” The protests began in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from office last month.

About 2.5 percent of global oil output moves through Egypt via the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean Pipeline, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The waterway is open and operating normally today, Ahmed El Manakhly, head of traffic for the Suez Canal Authority, said by phone.

Egypt’s Revenue

“A significant part of Egypt’s revenue comes from the Suez Canal and tourism,” said Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank in Washington. “Since tourism will be hurt for a while because of the unrest, whoever is in control will definitely want to keep both the Suez Canal and the SuMed pipeline running smoothly.”

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries should only meet if the Suez Canal closes, Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters today in Caracas. Oil is rising to a “fair price,” he said. OPEC ministers are next scheduled to gather in June at the group’s Vienna headquarters.

Brent crude for March settlement fell $1.93, or 1.9 percent, to end the session at $99.83 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract touched $103.37 yesterday, the highest intraday level since Sept. 26, 2008.

Oil volume on the Nymex was 699,437 contracts as of 3:27 p.m. in electronic trading in New York. Volume totaled 682,075 contracts yesterday, 3.4 percent lower than the average of the past three months. Open interest was 1.56 million contracts, the highest level since Sept. 12, 2007.

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