Oil slide continues, natural gas soars

Friday, April 5, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 14

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil dipped below $93 a barrel Friday after a weak U.S. jobs report cast doubt on the strength of the U.S. economy.

U.S. benchmark oil fell 56 cents to close at $92.70 in New York. Brent Crude, which sets the price of oil used by many U.S. refineries to make gasoline, fell $2.19 to close at $104.15. It was the lowest close for Brent since last July.

It was the third straight day of declines for oil. U.S. benchmark oil has fallen 5 percent since closing Tuesday at $97.19.

Oil fell earlier in the week after the Energy Department reported that storage levels were at their highest levels since 1990 even though refiners had begun to ramp up gasoline production to get ready for the summer driving season.

Now the economy looks like it might not grow fast enough to churn through the nation's high supplies.

The Labor Department reported Friday the economy added 88,000 jobs in March, the fewest in nine months and half as many as analysts expected. The slowdown may signal the economy will weaken this spring.

When the economy slows, shippers and travelers burn less gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, reducing demand for crude oil needed to make those fuels.

Oil analyst Jim Ritterbusch said that he expects oil prices to remain weak in the coming weeks. Along with what could be a slower U.S. economy, economic growth in developing markets seems to be slowing slightly and the European economy continues to struggle. At the same time, oil supplies in the U.S. and Europe are high.

U.S. retail gasoline prices inched lower Friday, falling by a penny to $3.63 per gallon, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. Pump prices have been slowly declining since reaching a winter peak of $3.79 on Feb. 27. Last year at this time, U.S. gasoline prices hit their high for the year of $3.94 per gallon.

Natural gas prices have been rising quickly in recent months as cold weather blanketed the country through March and into early April. Half of U.S. homes use natural gas for heating.

Natural gas rose 4.6 percent Friday to close at $4.13 per thousand cubic feet. That's the highest close for natural gas since August 2011. The price has doubled since last year at this time, when the nation was emerging from the warmest winter on record.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Heating oil fell 5 cents to close at $2.91 per gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to close at $2.86 per gallon.