Oil prices stay below $83 per barrel

Oil prices hovered below $83 a barrel Friday as investors looked to a key U.S. jobs report later in the day for clues about the strength of the economic recovery, The Associated Press reports.

Signs of monetary tightening in China and the dollar’s gains on other major currencies also helped keep oil prices in check.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for February delivery was down 20 cents to $82.46 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract fell 52 cents to settle at $82.66.

The Labor Department is scheduled to announce later on Friday the December unemployment rate and job creation figures — numbers traders will study closely for signs the economy is on surer footing heading into 2010.

Oil prices have come off slightly from 15-month highs above $83 a barrel earlier this week. Cold weather in parts of the U.S., Europe and Asia have drained supplies of crude products such as heating oil and spurred a 19 percent rally since mid-December.

Analysts said an interest rate increase Thursday by China’s central bank on its three-month treasury bills was seen as a sign of a tightening monetary policy aimed at controlling inflation instead of purely supporting economic growth.

“This move could potentially slow down economic growth and reduce oil demand,” said JBC Energy in Vienna.

The dollar’s gains on the euro and the Japanese yen — also helped halt the oil rally, as dollar-denominated crude became more expensive.

On Friday, the euro was down to $1.4290 from $1.4325 in New York late Thursday, while the British pound rose to $1.6004 from $1.5940 and the dollar moved up to 93.27 Japanese yen from 93.26 yen.

In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil was down 0.36 cent to $2.18 a gallon and gasoline lost 0.28 cent to $2.1321 a gallon. Natural gas futures fell 0.6 cent to $5.80 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery fell 26 cents to $81.25 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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