NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil rose Thursday as a positive report on the U.S. labor market and more cold temperatures boosted expectations of higher demand for fuel.
Meanwhile, the auto group AAA reminded drivers that spring is on the way — and along with it, higher gasoline prices.
Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery rose 46 cents to close at $97.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier rising near $99.
The Labor Department said the number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits declined 20,000 last week to 331,000, suggesting that Americans are facing fewer layoffs and better job prospects. Those figures came a day before a widely anticipated report on January employment.
With chilly temperatures across the middle of the country and into the Northeast, demand for heating oil remains strong. That should boost refineries' need for crude oil.
The cool weather has had the opposite effect on gasoline demand: drivers hunkering down in their homes don't use the car. The average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. is $3.27, down 5 cents from Jan. 1.
Still, AAA said Thursday that gasoline prices will soon be on their way up. Refineries are starting to shut down for winter maintenance, which reduces supply. They also gradually switch to more expensive summer blends of gasoline over the coming weeks.