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NYMEX-US crude holds near $98 on fuel demand, jobs data awaited

SEOUL, Feb 7 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil futures traded near $98 a barrel on Friday, gleaning support from a continuing cold spell that has spurred fuel demand, as investors braced for a critical jobs report to gauge the health of the economy.

FUNDAMENTALS

* U.S. crude gained 3 cents at $97.87 a barrel as of 0029 GMT, after it settled 46 cents higher at $97.84 a barrel on Thursday.

* Brent crude settled up 94 cents at $107.19.

* A 24-hour strike disrupted France's ports on Thursday, including tanker traffic at its main oil hub of Fos-Lavera on the Mediterranean coast, while the impact on the French power sector was limited.

* The four North Sea benchmark crudes are set to load fewer barrels in March on a daily basis than in February, according to loading programmes which emerged this week.

* The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, in a boost to the labor market outlook and the broader economy, which lent supports to the oil markets. The upbeat news, however, was undermined somewhat by other data on Thursday showing a slump in U.S. exports in December.

* Markets are now awaiting the release of U.S. nonfarm payrolls data to gauge the strength of the economy and its likely impact on the Federal Reserve's stimulus tapering.

* U.S. crude also got supported by the news that the latest in a rapid succession of brutal winter storms hit the United States on Wednesday, cutting power to over a million homes and businesses and playing havoc with road and air transport links and boosted demand for heating fuels.

* News that U.S. refiners were moving into their maintenance season weighed on U.S. crude. Citgo Petroleum Corp began a shutdown of both plants at its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Wednesday for planned maintenance lasting about 35 days.

* On the geopolitical front, the U.N. nuclear watchdog hopes to persuade Iran in talks on Saturday to finally start addressing long-held suspicions it has worked on designing an atomic bomb, a test of whether ties really are thawing under the Islamic state's new president.

MARKETS NEWS

* The dollar drifted down about 0.2 percent against a basket of currencies to 80.886, and shed about 0.1 percent against its Japanese counterpart to 102.03 yen.

The euro was steady against the greenback after rallying to a one-week high of $1.3619 EUR= on Thursday, following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's comment that the euro zone is not plagued by deflation.

* Major U.S. and European stock indexes rose more than 1 percent, as did a measure of world stock markets.

The euro reached a one-week high against the U.S. dollar on the back of the European Central Bank's announcement that it would leave its main interest rate unchanged.

DATA/EVENTS

* The following data is expected on Friday: (Time in GMT) DATA (GMT)

0145 China HSBC Services PMI

0700 Germany Trade data

0745 France Trade data

1100 Germany Industrial output

1330 U.S. Nonfarm payrolls

1330 U.S. Unemployment rate