Oil hovers above $66 after weak jobs data

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Oil prices hovered above $66 a barrel Friday in light holiday trading a day after grim unemployment numbers from the U.S. and Europe sent prices tumbling.

By mid-afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for August delivery was down 16 cents to $66.57 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, it fell $2.58, nearly 4 percent, to settle at $66.73.

Trading in the U.S. is closed Friday for the Independence Day holiday.

Oil came off an eight-month intraday high of $73.38 a barrel earlier this week on growing investor concerns that a doubling of the crude price since March isn’t justified by a sluggish global economy.

“Renewed concern over the global economy, reflected in lower equities, is the main driver of weaker oil market sentiment,” said Britain’s KBC Market Services. “However, in contrast to recent months, weak oil market fundamentals seem at last to be exerting some influence.”

KBC mentioned rising oil inventories and U.S. gasoline stocks as evidence of weak demand.

“There is no longer a shortfall, or support, in any key sector of the oil complex,” KBC said.

Weak jobs figures released Thursday suggested consumption will remain tepid and crude demand may not pick up quickly.

A Labor Department report showed the U.S. economy lost a larger-than-expected 467,000 jobs in June. The unemployment rate climbed to 9.5 percent, a 26-year high.

Unemployment in the 16 countries that use the euro spiked to a ten-year high in May, also at 9.5 percent.

The dismal economic data undermined investor confidence and sent the Dow Jones industrial average down 2.6 percent Thursday. Most Asian and European stock indexes also were lower Friday.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for August delivery was down 0.73 cent to $1.7835 a gallon and heating oil rose 0.44 cent to $1.7060. Natural gas for August delivery rose 6.4 cents to $3.679 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent prices slid 27 cents to $66.38 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.