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Oil prices continued to plunge on Friday, slipping to near $97 a barrel as investors worried that a weakening U.S. jobs market may undermine demand for crude in the world's largest economy.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for June delivery was down $2.60 at $97.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, it fell as low as $94.63.
On Thursday, the contract plunged $9.44 to settle at $99.80 — the biggest one-day percentage decline since April 2009 — because of signs U.S. economic growth is slowing. The Labor Department said that first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to 474,000 last week, the highest level in eight months.
In London, Brent crude for June delivery was down $2.38 to $108.42 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Investors will be closely watching the government's non-farm payroll numbers scheduled to be released later Friday. Economists forecast that employers added 185,000 workers in April and the unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.8 percent.
Oil has retreated after gaining 35 percent from February to reach $114 last week. Other commodities that had jumped in recent months, such as gold and silver, have also seen steep declines this week.
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