NEW YORK: Oil prices held near a three-week low on Thursday as investors weighed robust US jobs data and sanctions on Venezuela and Iran against global demand concerns and easing tensions in the Middle East.

Brent futures rose 17 cents, or 0.2%, to $87.46 a barrel by 1:05 p.m. EDT (1705 GMT), while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 38 cents, or 0.5%, to $83.07. On Wednesday, both benchmarks closed at their lowest since March 27.

Increased interest in energy trading boosted open interest in Brent futures on the Intercontinental Exchange to its highest since February 2021 for a second day in a row on Wednesday.

In other energy markets, the drop in US diesel futures to a 15-week low, cut the heating oil crack spread, which measures refining profit margins, to its lowest since April 2023.

In the US, President Joe Biden’s administration said it wants to keep gasoline prices within current ranges as the country heads into its summer driving season.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits was unchanged at a low level last week, pointing to continued labor market strength.

US labor market resilience, which is driving the economy, together with elevated inflation have led financial markets and some economists to expect the US Federal Reserve could delay cutting interest rates until September.

Lower interest rates would reduce borrowing costs and could spur economic growth and demand for oil. In Europe, meanwhile, European Central Bank made it clear that an interest rate cut is coming in June but policymakers continued to differ on moves thereafter or how low interest rates can go before once again starting to stimulate the economy.

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