Oil pushes higher on Iran sanctions, jobs data

By David Gaffen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Friday after the United States imposed sanctions on some Iranian individuals and entities, days after the White House rebuked Tehran for a ballistic missile test.

The strong U.S. January jobs figure was also supportive, as it suggests ongoing strength in energy demand.

Front-month U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled up 29 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $53.83. The contract gained more than 1 percent for the week.

Brent crude futures settled 25 cents higher at $56.81 a barrel, giving it a 2 percent gain on the week, the first significant weekly rise this year.

Volume in U.S. crude futures on Friday was relatively low, with about 440,000 contracts changing hands by 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT), short of the 200-day moving average of 528,000 contracts a day.

"I think that the consensus is that Iran supported the market, but I think that it’s probably more on the stronger jobs report leading to higher demand in the near term," said Carl Larry, director at Frost & Sullivan.

U.S. job growth surged more than expected in January as construction firms and retailers ramped up hiring. Nonfarm payrolls were up by 227,000, with the unemployment rate edging up to 4.8 percent.

Under the sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury, 13 individuals and 12 entities cannot access the U.S. financial system or deal with U.S. companies. They are also subject to "secondary sanctions," which means foreign companies and individuals are prohibited from dealing with them, or risk being blacklisted by the United States.

This is the first move by the administration of President Donald Trump against Iran. It follows his vows during the 2016 campaign to get tough on Tehran.

The news added to volatility in what had already been a day of choppy trading. Analysts said the market is torn between promised cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and fears over rising U.S. shale oil production.

"While the market is taking these actions in stride so far as unlikely to result in a larger military conflict that would put Persian Gulf crude oil supplies at risk, the odds of that scenario are certainly higher than a week ago," wrote Timothy Evans, energy analyst at Citi Futures in New York.

(Reporting by Libby George in London and David Gaffen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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