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Oil hits $139 as jobless figures stun US logo

Oil hits $139 as jobless figures stun US

· Biggest rise for 22 years in unemployment
· Shares and hopes of dodging recession tumble

Oil wells

Photograph: David McNew/Getty images

Oil prices leaped to another record high yesterday as Israel warned Iran about its nuclear sites and the dollar slumped on news of the biggest jump in US unemployment for 22 years.

Global crude ended a run of lower prices as it jumped by more than $11 a barrel to more than $139 – it has risen more than $17 in two days. The price eventually settled at $138.54. On Wednesday the price had fallen to as low as $122.

Already jittery oil markets were sent into spasm by remarks from Israel’s transport minister that an attack on Iranian nuclear sites looked “unavoidable”. Any attack on the country would threaten supplies from the whole region.

Prices were also boosted by a prediction from investment bank Morgan Stanley that crude may reach $150 by July 4.

Earlier in the day the dollar had fallen against the euro partly on speculation that the European Central Bank may consider raising interest rates to curb inflation. Then markets were rocked by a report showing US unemployment suffered its biggest monthly rise for 22 years.

Shares dived after the US unemployment rate unexpectedly jumped to 5.5%, intensifying fears that the world’s biggest economy is sliding into recession. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 400 points, more than 3%, to close at 12,209. In London, the FTSE 100 closed the week down 1.5%, or 88 points, at 5,906.

The US Labor Department said non-farm payrolls fell by 49,000 in May from the month before. That was broadly in line with expectations but the department revised its April figure to show a drop of 28,000 rather than the 20,000 estimate it made last month.

The unemployment rate jumped from 5% in April to 5.5%, the biggest rise since February 1986 and the highest rate since October 2004. As stocks tumbled, so did the dollar, which shed nearly a cent against the euro.

Bond prices moved sharply higher as expectations of any near-term increase in interest rates subsided. Gold futures jumped 2%, to $891 an ounce as investors, taking fright, sought a safe haven.

There were substantial job losses last month in construction industries, where 34,000 cuts were made, in manufacturing, where 26,000 jobs were lost, and among providers of professional services, where 39,000 jobs went.

“The overall trend is clearly weakening, with the unemployment rate having increased by a full percentage point over the past 12 months,” said James Knightley, an economist at ING Financial Markets. “This will continue to depress consumer spending – the fiscal package is being fully swallowed by higher gasoline prices – and will, in our view, help to keep activity depressed for longer than financial markets are currently discounting.”

Nigel Gault, chief economist at Global Insight, said: “The rise in unemployment throws some cold water on the idea that the Fed will soon raise interest rates to prop up the dollar and rein in inflation. The Fed is in a difficult spot with first-half growth not far above zero, but inflation climbing. We believe that the economy is too fragile for a rate hike before 2009.” and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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