Oil hovers above $105 ahead of key US jobs figures

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By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press

SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices hovered above $105 a barrel Thursday in Asia as investors awaited key U.S. employment data for clues about the strength of the economy and crude demand.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 17 cents to $105.05 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 94 cents to settle at $105.22 in New York on Wednesday.

Brent crude for June delivery was up 10 cents at $118.30 per barrel in London.

Crude has traded between $102 and $106 for most of the last month as traders weigh a slowly recovering U.S. economy against signs of weakening growth in Europe and Asia. On Wednesday, a survey showed that European manufacturing is slowing down and the unemployment rate in the 17 countries that use the euro rose to 10.9 percent in March.

Investors will be closely watching the latest U.S. jobless claims figures later Thursday and April job creation and unemployment figures Friday.

"Manufacturing numbers out of Europe are looking increasingly disappointing," energy trader and analyst Ritterbusch and Associates in a report. "The oil trade has been volatile but confined to a relatively narrow trading band over the past 5 to 6 weeks. Much will depend on the U.S. employment numbers.

Natural gas has bounced to $2.28 per 1,000 cubic feet from a 10-year low near $1.90 last month as producers cut back output amid rising inventories.

"The mounting evidence that U.S. natural gas production is responding to low prices is supportive of our view that prices will rise back to $4 in 2013," Goldman Sachs said in a report. "However, we believe that the rally in summer 2012 prices has gone too far."

In other energy trading, heating oil was up 0.2 cents at $3.14 per gallon and gasoline futures added 1.1 cents at $3.09 per gallon.

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