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US oil ends higher as US jobs paint encouraging picture

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U.S. crude oil rose on Friday as data showed strong jobs growth in the United States and Brent followed suit as investors cast doubt on reports Libya's oil ports were about to reopen.

The March U.S. non-farm payrolls report showed 192,000 jobs were added in March in major test of the argument that the economic weakness of January and February was due to bad weather.

Expectations had been building that an eight-month blockage of Libya's oil export ports would end after rebels and the government said they were close to an agreement.

The Libyan government said it had seen evidence of "good intentions" at indirect talks with eastern rebels that could lead to renewed exports. Previous reports of the reopening of ports have proven false and investors suspect there will again be no breakthrough.

"In the oil market it is Libya that is pulling the strings," said David Hufton, managing director of London brokerage PVM Oil Associates. "High hopes of an imminent settlement with rebels in the east of the country have been punctured."

May Brent crude rose 50 cents to over $106 a barrel. It was down 1.6 percent so far for the week, on course for its steepest weekly loss since losing nearly 5 percent in the week to Jan. 3. U.S. crude for May delivery rose by 85 cents to settle at $101.14 a barrel. Still, front-month prices are set to post their first weekly loss in three weeks.

Oil had an additional boost from U.S. non-farm payrolls figures showing 192,000 new jobs in March, evidence the U.S. economy is accelerating after a bitterly cold winter. Economists polled by Reuters had expected U.S. employment to increase 200,000 last month.

The restart of Libya's eastern oil ports could release about 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, bumping up the OPEC producer's output from around 150,000 bpd, but still far from the 1.4 million bpd it produced last July. However, investors remained cautious after a breakdown in agreements between the Libyan government and rebels earlier this year.

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