By PABLO GORONDIThe price of oil dipped below $93 a barrel Friday ahead of the release of employment figures which traders hope will shed more light on the state of the U.S. economy. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for May delivery was down 36 cents to $92.90 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.19 on Thursday after U.S. data showed an increase in the number of people seeking jobless benefits. That raised the possibility of reduced energy demand as fewer people traveling to work would lower demand for gasoline. Traders are now awaiting the employment report for March that the Labor Department will release later Friday. Experts believe employers added about 195,000 jobs in March, with the unemployment rate seen staying at a four-year low of 7.7 percent. "We believe the price slump to be exaggerated, so a recovery is certainly overdue," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "Because many market players attribute this week's slide in the price of crude oil to the weaker U.S. data of late, considerable attention is likely to be paid to today's labor market figures." The prospect of slowing demand comes on top of the burgeoning supply of oil in the U.S. and both are keeping a lid on oil prices. On Wednesday, the Energy Department said crude oil inventories rose last week to the highest level since July 1990. Lending some support to oil prices were fresh figures showing that industrial orders in Germany grew by 2.3 percent in February after falling by 1.6 percent in January. This raised hopes that Europe's largest economy began growing again during the first three months of the year after contracting by 0.6 percent during the last quarter of 2012. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was down 52 cents to $105.82 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:â¿¿ Heating oil lost 1.46 cent to $2.949 a gallon. â¿¿ Natural gas rose 0.7 cent to $3.954 per 1,000 cubic feet. â¿¿ Gasoline was practically unchanged at $2.8995 a gallon. ___ Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.