By PABLO GORONDIThe price of oil fell slightly Monday after strong jobs growth in the U.S. sparked speculation of an earlier end to the Federal Reserve's loose monetary policy. By early afternoon in Europe, the benchmark oil contract for April delivery was down 11 cents to $91.84 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 39 cents on Friday after the U.S. government said employers added 236,000 jobs in February, far exceeding predictions. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent. While the improved jobs picture bodes well for growth, analysts said it could also signal an earlier end to the Fed's bond-buying program, dubbed quantitative easing, which has been instrumental in propping up the U.S. economy since the 2008 global financial crisis. Caroline Bain, commodities analyst at Economist Intelligence Unit, said that if U.S. economic data continues to be strong, investors might anticipate that quantitative easing would be wound down "sooner rather than later and this would be negative for oil prices as it suggests lower investor inflows." The Fed's policy of keeping interest rates near record lows and pumping new money into the economy is meant to boost lending and investment. But it also serves to draw money away from bonds and into stocks and commodities. Recent gains by the dollar against the Japanese yen and the euro also put pressure on oil prices. A stronger dollar makes oil a less enticing investment for traders using those other currencies, since oil is traded in dollars. "Rather than benefiting like the equity markets from the positive U.S. labor market data and the resulting rosier demand prospects in the world's largest oil consumer, oil prices are under pressure from a firmer U.S. dollar and speculation about a premature end to the Fed's bond purchasing program," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was down 52 cents to $110.33 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.In other energy futures trading on the Nymex: â¿¿ Wholesale gasoline added 3.85 cents to $3.242 a gallon. â¿¿ Heating oil gained 0.26 cent to $2.9775 a gallon. â¿¿ Natural gas lost 0.9 cent to $3.62 per 1,000 cubic feet. ___ Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.