Oil prices steady as traders await U.S. employment data

Oil prices were nearly flat in Asian trading Friday as market participants looked for trading cues from U.S. jobs data due later in the day.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery dropped 6 cents to US$61.71 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, mid-afternoon in Singapore.

Brent crude for April delivery fell 3 cents to $62.30 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Exchange.

The energy market was quiet as traders waited ahead of the weekend and the release of employment data by the U.S. Labor Department, analysts said.

"If the data shows strength, traders will resume confidence in the U.S. economy, which may move crude prices sharply," said Koichi Murakami, an analyst with brokerage Daiichi Shohin.

Data showing stability in U.S. jobs has previously been a market driver as it suggests consumers will keep spending money.

The contract on Thursday fell 18 cents to settle at US$61.64 a barrel as traders regarded forecasts of warmer-than-normal U.S. weather over the next two weeks as an opportunity to take some profits.

Though many analysts are expecting oil prices to advance further as U.S. gasoline demand picks up during the warmer months, crude could see a dip before that happens, as March is a seasonally slow month, the AP says.

Also, traders will be watching for news from a meeting next week in Vienna, Austria, of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

Markets are also watching developments in the Middle East over Iran's over failure to comply with demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. Washington is pushing for tougher U.N. sanctions on Tehran and introducing legislation to punish foreign oil companies that invest in Iran's energy industry.

Heating oil futures rose 0.28 cent to US$1.7641 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices rose a tad to US$7.246 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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