Oil refinery. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Oil refinery. Picture: THINKSTOCK

LONDON — Brent crude oil rose above $116 on Friday to reach a four-month high after a suicide bombing attack on the US embassy in Ankara increased the focus on tension across the region.

US crude prices slipped though after a modest improvement in the US jobs market was slightly below expectations.

Brent headed for a third consecutive week of gains and was on track to post its biggest weekly gain in two months.

US crude was set to rise for an eighth straight week, matching a similar winning streak in July-August 2004.

Brent futures for March rose $1.18 to a high of $116.73 a barrel, its highest since mid-September, before easing back to around $116.25 by 3pm GMT.

US crude, also known as West Texas Intermediate or WTI, was down 65c at $96.84.

"Events in Syria and Turkey have increased supply concerns," Christopher Bellew, an oil broker at Jefferies Bache, said.

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives charge outside the US embassy in Ankara on Friday, killing himself and a security guard. The attack further increased tensions in the Middle East after Israel bombed targets in Syria earlier in the week.

US employers added 157,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, the Labour Department said. The US unemployment rate, however, edged up 0.1 percentage point to 7.9%.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected employers to add 160,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 7.8% last month.

"The employment data is somewhat disappointing, as it represents a pullback from the trend toward job growth approaching 200,000 per month," John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York, said.

"Today’s report is simply not good enough to support the thesis that a energy demand will be increasing as a result of improving employment levels," he said.

Optimism

Growing optimism over the US economic recovery was shaken this week after data showed the economy unexpectedly contracted in Q4.

However, the US Federal Reserve’s decision to leave in place its bond-buying stimulus plan, known as quantitative easing, boosted oil markets which benefit from a weaker dollar.

A pair of surveys on China’s factory output offered diverging views on the pace of the recovery of the world’s second largest oil consumer.

The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) missed market expectations, underscoring that the economy is making only a mild recovery from its weakest year since 1999. But a private PMI survey released by HSBC showed growth among manufacturers quickening to a two-year high.

Supply worries stemming from conflict in the Middle East have helped support Brent, the main gauge for global oil prices.

Syria protested to the United Nations (UN) on Thursday over an Israeli air strike on its territory and warned of a possible "surprise" response.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran and Russia on Thursday to rethink their support for Syria, saying the most dire scenarios of the conflict spilling beyond its borders could materialise.

Tension over Iran’s uranium enrichment plan continued to bubble after a plan to upgrade its refining equipment was delivered to the UN nuclear agency.

Reuters