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U.S. labor numbers lift oil prices

Oil prices recover modestly on strong U.S. labor figures

By Daniel J. Graeber

NEW YORK, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Growth in the U.S. labor sector gave oil prices a lift in Thursday trading despite a string of dismal fourth quarter reports from leading energy companies.

The price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude oil benchmark, gained about a half percent from the previous close to trade for $44.70 for the March contract. Oil prices are struggling to erase last year's second half decline, trading down about 14 percent since the beginning of the year.

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Oil prices tumbled in Wednesday trading after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in a weekly status update that U.S. crude oil inventories were at their highest levels since the early 1980s.

Oil markets are tilted heavily toward the supply side in part because of increasing production in the United States and weak demand elsewhere.

Major oil companies, from Occidental Petroleum to Royal Dutch Shell, all reported weak fourth quarter results Thursday as the bear market for crude oil continues.

Markets had a mixed reaction to last week's quantitative easing initiative from the European Central Bank but seemingly responded well to positive numbers in the U.S. labor market.

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The Labor Department said seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 24 fell 43,000 from the previous week. Texas and North Dakota, the No. 1 and No. 2 oil producers in the country, respectively, saw initial claims fall by more than 7,000 collectively.

Oil prices at the point where some energy companies are cutting staff and trimming expenses to cope with the weak market. The Dallas Federal Reserve said this week unemployment rates fell in nine major metropolitan areas in December, but service and manufacturing activity was stalling.

The price for Brent, the global crude oil benchmark, rallied nearly a full percent, but not enough to break the $50 threshold, trading at $48.92 per barrel early in the Thursday session.

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