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Oil prices hit 5-month highs, Brent settles above $70 on strong US jobs report and Libya conflict

Key Points
  • Crude futures are set for weekly gains on OPEC supply cuts and U.S. sanctions.
  • An eastern Libyan commander ordered his troops to march on the capital of Tripoli, escalating a conflict with the internationally recognized government.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the U.S. added 196,000 jobs in March, marking a return to solid employment growth after a weak report in February.
An idled pump jack, once used to extract crude oil from the ground, and a tank battery, used to temporarily store freshly-pumped crude, rust in a farmer's field near Ridgway, Ill., Jan. 21, 2015.
Getty Images

Oil prices rose more than 1 percent on Friday on bullish U.S. employment data that tempered fears about a decline in global crude demand and on expectations that an escalating conflict in Libya could tighten oil supplies.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled 98 cents higher at $63.11 a barrel on Friday, rising 1.6% to a new five-month closing high. WTI posted its fifth consecutive weekly gain, rising 4.9% over the last five days.

Brent crude futures rose 94 cents, or 1.4%, to $70.34 a barrel, marking the first time the international benchmark has settled above $70 in five months. Brent finished the week 2.9% higher.

Both contracts hit new five-month highs after Friday's settle.

"Oil prices are rallying in reaction to the U.S. employment report," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. "Signs of global economic slowdown had been a headwind for oil prices, but this morning's report seemed to dispel at least some of those concerns."

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Crude futures rose with the U.S. stock market after the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the U.S. added 196,000 jobs in March, marking a return to solid employment growth after a weak report in February.

Military action in Libya, which could disrupt supply from the OPEC member, also supported prices.

Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops on Thursday to march on the capital Tripoli, escalating a conflict with the internationally recognized government.

Any potential oil outages in Libya would "noticeably increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia to open up the oil tap again, as it did in the autumn," Commerzbank said in a note.

Crude futures also received a boost from news of a potential slowdown in crude production out of Venezuela, as U.S. sanctions and energy blackouts hit the OPEC nation's oil industry.

Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA expects its crucial crude upgraders to operate well below capacity this month, according to industry sources and documents seen by Reuters.

Venezuela depends on the upgraders, which are mostly operated by joint ventures with foreign companies, to convert the extra-heavy crude oil produced in the Orinoco Belt into exportable grades usable in overseas refineries.

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U.S. energy firms this week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the first time in seven weeks. Companies added 15 oil rigs in the week to April 5, the biggest increase since May, bringing the total count to 831, General Electric's Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.

Lingering concerns over U.S.-China trade relations limited oil price gains.

The United States and China, the world's two biggest oil consumers, could be close to ending their trade dispute, though some hurdles remain.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said the two sides were "very close to making a deal," but the United States remains hesitant to lift its tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods.

Prices for thermal coal and natural gas, the main power generation fuels, have already fallen sharply amid a marked slowdown in consumption.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.