Gasoline Rises to Nine-Month High on Jobs Report, Iran Tension

Gasoline rose to a nine-month high as first-time jobless claims matched a four-year low from two weeks ago, and as crude oil rose after the U.S. escalated warnings to Iran about its nuclear program.

Futures surged 2.9 percent as applications for unemployment insurance decreased 2,000 in the week ended Feb. 25 to 351,000, Labor Department figures showed today. The Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index rose as much as 0.8 percent in New York. Brent crude oil gained 2.9 percent in London to the highest level since July 2008.

“We continue to have bullish economic data and the stock market seems to be saying all is well,” said Peter Beutel, president of trading advisory company in New Canaan, Connecticut. “And Iran is moving ominously in the background, casting a shadow on the oil market.”

Gasoline for April delivery rose 9.45 cents to settle at $3.3517 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Prices extended gains after the 2:30 p.m. close of floor trading in New York, touching $3.3868 as Brent jumped to a 10-month high of $128.40 a barrel on a report of an oil pipeline fire in Saudi Arabia.

Brent oil for April settlement climbed $3.54 to settle at $126.20 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange.

“The fear factor is still out there and there’s a very strong Brent market right now,” said Fred Rigolini, vice president of Paramount Options Inc. in New York.

Obama administration officials are escalating warnings that the U.S. could join Israel in attacking Iran if the Islamic republic doesn’t dispel concerns that its nuclear-research program is aimed at producing weapons.

Military Options

Four days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told reporters the Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared military options to strike Iranian nuclear sites in the event of a conflict.

“Geopolitics is still the No. 1 driver of prices,” said Dominick Chirichella, senior partner at the Energy Management Institute in New York. “Who knows how this upcoming meeting in Washington is going to come out. There’s a lot of skittishness in the market.”

April-delivery heating oil gained 6.94 cents, or 2.2 percent, to settle at $3.2753 a gallon on the exchange.

Regular gasoline at the pump, averaged nationwide, rose 0.7 cent to $3.738 a gallon yesterday, according to AAA data. Prices have increased 14 percent this year.

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