Crude oil prices declined slightly and hovered below $92 a barrel during Asian trading hours Friday as investors awaited a key U.S. monthly non-farm payrolls and unemployment data from the government while Chinese trade data reaffirmed moderate recovery.
Light sweet crude for April delivery declined 0.15 percent or 14 cents to $91.42 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange during Asian trading hours. Brent crude oil futures for the April delivery fell 0.17 percent or 19 cents to $110.96 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange in London.
Investors opted for caution ahead of the U.S. Department of Labor's monthly non-farm payrolls report, which is due to be released before markets open. The report, which measures the change in the number of people employed during the previous month, excluding the farming industry, is expected to show that the world’s largest economy added 180,000 jobs last month, following a 151,000 gain in January. The unemployment rate is likely to edge down to 7.8 percent in February from 7.9 percent in the previous month.
Meanwhile, official data released Friday showed that China managed a trade surplus last month, beating forecasts of a deficit due to the seasonal issues pertaining to the Chinese New Year holidays. China's trade surplus narrowed to $15.25 billion in February from January's $29.15 billion surplus but topped analysts’ estimate of a $16 billion trade deficit.
Exports, a key indicator of China's economic growth, rose 21.8 percent in February from a year earlier, lower in comparison to 25 percent increase registered in January but beat analysts’ forecast of a 5 percent rise. Imports declined 15.2 percent in comparison to 28.8 percent annual growth reported in January and also deeper than Reuters' forecast of an 8.8 percent decline, reaffirming a moderate recovery in the world’s second largest oil consuming nation.
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"The growth in exports probably reflected an improving global economic environment, including the United States, while the drop in imports is likely distorted by the effect from the Lunar Year holidays during the month. The fall in imports does not suggest weakness in domestic demand and the trade data overall doesn't change the outlook for a moderate recovery in China,” Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo, told Reuters.
Oil futures surged Thursday as a less-than-expected jobless claims data buoyed sentiment. Light sweet crude for April delivery surged 1.3 percent or $1.13 and settled at $91.56 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude for the April delivery gained 9 cents and settled at $111.15 a barrel.
According to the data reported Thursday by the Labor Department, the initial jobless claims fell 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ending Mar.2, less than economists' estimate of 350,000 claims.