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Commodities rocked by growing US economic gloom

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Most commodity prices fell this week after a surprisingly bad labour report in the United States, which is a top consumer of many raw materials, while Brent oil also struck a five-month low on fears of a supply glut.

The US labour market was far weaker than expected in March, with the economy adding only 88,000 jobs, a third of the number in February, official data showed on Friday.

Job creation slumped to its weakest level since June 2012, and was far below the 192,000 jobs that analysts had expected. The total number of unemployed persons was little changed at 11.7 million.

The unemployment rate dipped in March to 7.6 percent -- the lowest since December 2008 -- from 7.7 percent in February as more people dropped out of the workforce.

The non-farm payrollls (NFP) data is crucial for international financial markets because it provides vital clues on the health of the world's biggest economy.

Investors also kept a close watch this week on the Korean peninsula, where tension has risen to a high level amid a standoff that pits North Korea against South Korea and its main ally, the United States.

Added to the picture, traders digested a new raft of monetary easing measures from the Bank of Japan.

OIL: London Brent prices plunged on Friday to $104.20 per barrel -- which was the lowest point since August 2012 -- and New York crude hit a two-week trough at $92.15.

"Prices have fallen dramatically over the last three days, shedding value in response to poor economic data from the US, with US companies just adding 88,000 jobs," said energy analyst Joe Conlan at British-based energy consultancy Inenco.

"This was far worse than economists had predicted. The falls may have been greater had it not been for news from the Bank of Japan that they were launching a massive injection of capital into the economy.

"Not even the threat of military action on the Korean peninsula has stopped the slide in the oil markets, with technical indicators pointing to a price around or just under $100 per barrel."

Crude futures had already slumped on Thursday following an unexpected jump in US unemployment claims. Official data showed new claims for unemployment benefits totalled 385,000 in the week ending March 30, up 28,000 from the prior week. Analysts had expected claims to fall.

Prices were also under pressure this week on the back of stubborn concerns over plentiful US supplies.

The market had dived by about $3 a barrel on Wednesday after the US government's Energy Information Administration revealed that US crude reserves rose 2.7 million barrels to 388.6 million barrels.

That was almost double market expectations for an increase of 1.5 million barrels, and sent total stocks to the highest level since July 1990. Surging US inventories signal weaker demand and tends to put downward pressure on prices.

"Oil stockpiles now stand at levels not seen since 1990 pointing to a lack of demand in the world's largest economy," added Conlan.

By Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May decreased to $104.82 a barrel from $109.42 on Thursday of the previous week.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for May slid to $92.27 a barrel from $96.67.

PRECIOUS METALS: Gold fell to its lowest point since May 2012, punished by the strong dollar, but clawed back ground on Friday as payrolls data stoked expectations that the US Federal Reserve would continue with its quantitative easing stimulus.

"Gold rallied following the release of the figure. Another second-quarter downturn in the US economy is actually positive for those who want the Fed's QE3 program continue," said Alpari analyst Craig Erlam.

"Gold, as an inflation hedge, tends to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of more QE, so this reaction clearly suggests that traders believe QE3 is here to stay."

By Friday on the London Bullion Market, the price of gold dipped to $1,568 an ounce from $1,598.25 the previous Thursday.

Silver slid to $26.97 an ounce from $28.64.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum dipped to $1,531 an ounce from $1,576.

Palladium reversed to $720 an ounce from $770.

BASE METALS: Base or industrial metal prices fell across the board on demand worries linked to downbeat US data.

By Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months slipped to $7,421 a tonne from $7,606 the previous Thursday.

Three-month aluminium retreated to $1,888 a tonne from $1,913.

Three-month lead declined to $2,067 a tonne from $2,115.

Three-month tin sank to $22,800 a tonne from $23,150.

Three-month nickel reversed to $16,065 a tonne from $16,690.

Three-month zinc slid to $1,887 a tonne from $1,901.

COCOA: Cocoa futures drifted lower as sentiment was clouded once again by supply deficit expectations.

"We expect rather dormant market conditions over the course of April," noted INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir.

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in May eased to £1,430 a tonne from £1,455 the previous Thursday.

On New York's NYBOT-ICE exchange, cocoa for May declined to $2,127 a tonne from $2,162.

COFFEE: The market experienced another mixed week, with higher-quality Arabica coffee rising in value and Robusta coffee losing ground.

"Arabica prices continuing to benefit from ideas that they will gradually reclaim a larger share of the roast from robusta," noted analysts at trade magazine Public Ledger.

By Friday on LIFFE, Robusta for delivery in May dropped to $2,003 a tonne from $2,044 the previous Thursday.

On NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for May firmed to 138.95 US cents a pound from 137.30 cents.

SUGAR: Prices declined on the prospect of a supply surplus as a result of record crop in top global producer Brazil.

"The large supply surplus of 8.5 million tons in the current 2012/2013 season and the expectation of a record sugar cane harvest in Brazil are having an impact on sugar prices," said Commerzbank analysts.

By Friday on LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in May eased to $503.10 from $505.50 the previous Thursday.

On NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for May dipped to 17.63 US cents a pound from 17.82 cents.

RUBBER: The market fell further, weighed down by a lack of buying interest, ample supply and a slowdown in demand due to uncertain global economic conditions.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 fell to 257.50 US cents a kilo from 269.35 cents the previous week.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130405/commodities-rocked-growing-us-economic-gloom