By PABLO GORONDI
The price of oil fell slightly Friday, to near $91 a barrel, reflecting some investor caution ahead of the latest U.S. employment figures.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for April delivery was down 36 cents to $91.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The contract gained $1.13 to finish on Thursday, pushed higher by the release of data showing a drop in applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S.
On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department will release the official jobs data for February, a key indicator for the world's largest economy. Analysts expect the report to show that employers in the U.S., the biggest consumer of oil and petroleum products, added about 165,000 jobs last month.
A 9 percent year-on-year drop in China's oil imports in February also weighed on market sentiment, although the figure was likely exaggerated by that month's Chinese New Year holidays.
Crude prices have not benefited much from the optimism in equity markets which has led to record highs on the Dow Jones industrial average this week. In fact, oil prices are near their lows for the year due to lingering concerns about global economic growth and ample crude supplies in the U.S.
Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was down $1.23 at $109.92 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. The falling price was attributed to the reopening of a North Sea pipeline carrying 90,000 barrels a day and which had been shut down for repairs.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
â¿¿ Wholesale gasoline rose 2.77 cents to $3.151 a gallon.
â¿¿ Heating oil fell 1.96 cents to $2.9599 a gallon.
â¿¿ Natural gas added 0.8 cent to $3.59 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.