Oil futures hit $86 on strong jobs numbers

CRUDE oil futures crossed an 18-month high yesterday, rising towards $86 per barrel after positive jobs data from the US boosted hopes of a speedy economic recovery.

US crude futures for May delivery hit a session high of $85.89 as Asian traders responded to figures showing the fastest increase in North American job creation since the onset of the global recession in 2007.

Non-farm payrolls, released on Friday, rose 162,000 in March.

Although the uptick was slightly weaker than economists had expected, it supported the improving picture painted by stronger manufacturing data from the US, Europe, China and Brazil at the start of April.

Crude futures settled down to finish at $84.95 on the first day’s trading since the Bank Holiday.

MF Global senior analyst Edward Meir said the run in crude oil prices from $69 per barrel in February was likely to continue.

He said: “The fundamentals still look very comfortable but a lot of commodities are moving higher as the feeling is generally very positive about growth prospects. It looks very, very solid and we could go higher still – we expect a move to up to $90 per barrel in the near term.”

Clarence Hu, a trader with Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore, said sustained job growth would underpin a long-term rally in crude oil prices.

Optimism over the US economy was bolstered by the Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index yesterday, which rose to a three-year high of 55.4 for March.

Paul Ashworth, senior economist at Capital?Economics, described the rise as “a very positive development which, along with the better news on employment last week, suggests the recovery may be gaining traction”.

Meanwhile, the dollar index – which gauges the greenback’s performance against six other major currencies – slipped back from Friday’s high of 81.324 to 81.133.