Oil prices were little changed on Friday as stronger equities boosted hopes for economic recovery, outweighing U.S. jobs data that showed the unemployment rate at a 26-year high.

U.S. crude settled at $68.02, up 6 cents.

London Brent crude dropped 30 cents to close at $66.82.

Today's oil price response to the long awaited employment data was muted by the fact that the jobless report provided a mixed bag of information that failed to provide much insight into future economic or oil demand trends, said Jim Ritterbusch, president, Ritterbusch & Associates, Galena, Illinois.

However, a significant stock market advance combined with a weakening dollar managed to bring some buying interest back into the front of the crude curve, he added.

U.S. stocks moved higher, led by semiconductor stocks after Intel's chief executive forecast increased company spending on computers next year. <.N>

Earlier, oil prices had slipped after the U.S. Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent in August, despite fewer job losses than expected.

The August nonfarm payrolls number was certainly better than expected but there isn't much to cheer in a 9.7 percent unemployment rate, said Mike Fitzpatrick, vice president at MF Global in New York.

U.S. crude prices have been trading in a range between $65 to $75 a barrel since the start of August, with prices varying on economic data as investors seek clues about the speed of a recovery from the recession.

Prices are nearer to recent highs and will probably not reverse to lows seen earlier in the year, Fitzpatrick said in a note.

Oil dropped below $33 a barrel in December as slumping oil demand sent crude tumbling from a high near $150 in July 2008.

Traders are also watching for clues about whether the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will change its output policy when it meets next week in Vienna.

High oil inventory levels in many consuming countries have been a concern for OPEC members. Still, most analysts expect the producer group, the source of more than a third of the world's oil supply, will agree to maintain its official output target to keep prices stable around $70.

Oil demand and supply data reviewed by a panel of OPEC economists ahead of the September 9 meeting indicate no need for a change in output policy, two OPEC delegates said on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons and Gene Ramos in New York; Ikuko Kurahone and Catherine Bosley in London; Jennifer Tan in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy)