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Oil falls below $96 per barrel as dollar rises

BANGKOK (AP) — The price of oil fell below $96 per barrel on Friday after signs of improvement in U.S. employment sparked speculation that the Federal Reserve might scale back its aggressive monetary policy.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was down 73 cents to $95.66 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contact lost 23 cents to finish at $96.39 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said the strong dollar has been impacting "commodities prices generally." Since oil is traded in dollars, a stronger dollar makes crude and other commodities less appealing to investors with other currencies.

Stan Shamu of IG Markets in Melbourne said traders were also influenced by remarks in a speech Thursday by Charles Plosser, president of the Fed's Philadelphia regional bank.

Plosser suggested the Fed should "seriously look at tapering off asset purchases," Shamu said in a commentary, because the U.S. employment picture was improving. That could spark a rally in the dollar. The Fed is currently buying $85 billion of government bonds a month to hold down long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing and spending.

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 323,000. Layoffs have receded to pre-recession levels.

Brent crude, which is a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 66 cents to $103.81 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.2 cents to $2.873 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 1.7 cents to $2.92 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 3.1 cents to $3.952 per 1,000 cubic feet.