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Oil flat ahead of the release of U.S. employment data

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BANGKOK - Oil prices were barely changed Friday ahead of the release of employment figures that traders hope will shed light on the state of the U.S. economy.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 5 cents to US$93.21 a barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.19 to finish at $93.26 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 travelling to work would lower demand for gasoline.

Traders are now awaiting a key employment report for March that the Labor Department will release later Friday. The U.S. economy added a robust 236,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 per cent from 7.9 per cent.

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.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, rose 4 cents to $106.38 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Heating oil rose 0.7 cent to $2.97 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 0.2 cent to $3.949 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Gasoline was steady at $2.899 a gallon.

(TSX:ECA, TSX:IMO, TSX:SU, TSX:HSE, NYSE:BP, NYSE:COP, NYSE:XOM, NYSE:CVX, TSX:CNQ, TSX:TLM, TSX:COS.UN, TSX:CVE)

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