LONDON - Global commodity markets had mixed fortunes this week, but Brent oil fell on the back of soaring American crude reserves and an improving supply outlook, while traders braced for uncertainty from Italian political deadlock, US budget cuts and the death of Venezuela’s Hugh Chavez.

Crude futures also pushed lower on Friday as the dollar rebounded after a brighter-than-expected non-farm payrolls in top oil consuming nation the United States.

The February US jobs report delivered an encouraging surprise, with the unemployment rate slipping to a four-year low at 7.7 per cent and jobs growth picking up in what is also the world’s largest economy.

A stronger greenback makes dollar-denominated crude more expensive for buyers using weaker currencies. That tends to dent demand and prices.

On the back of the jobs data, meanwhile, Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly surged on Friday to a new intra-day record at 14,413.17 points.

OIL: World crude prices were hit by the strong dollar, surging US reserves and stubborn concerns over a prolonged budget stalemate in Washington, but finished the week on a stable note. “Oil prices have slid back this week on a combination of rising US inventories, disappointing prospects for European growth and a stronger US dollar,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

New York oil prices wobbled on Wednesday after the US Department of Energy (DoE) revealed that American crude stockpiles surged by more than eight times the expected amount, indicating weak demand. Crude reserves soared 3.8 million barrels in the week ending March 1, according to the DoE. That was far more than market expectations for a modest gain of 500,000 barrels.

Brent oil was meanwhile held back by news of improving supplies as supply resumed from the Buzzard oil field in the North Sea, as a key pipeline returned to service. Earlier in the week, oil had won brief support from uncertainty after the death of Chavez, the president of major Latin American crude producer Venezuela. Chavez, 58, died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

Markets also reacted to ongoing political limbo in debt-ridden Italy, where inconclusive elections have fanned concerns about a return to the eurozone debt crisis. “The significance of events in Venezuela may likely to be felt over the longer term although the change in leadership could generate some uncertainty in the short term,” said analyst Damien Cox at consultancy EnergyQuote in London.

“However, in Italy, one of the largest economies in the eurozone, the uncertainty surrounding the change of leadership is an equally interesting development given an inconclusive election result.

“It remains to be seen what sort of government emerges there and what the implications are for the eurozone of any new priorities it may have,” he added.

The ratings agency Fitch cut Italy’s sovereign debt rating by one notch to “BBB+” on Friday owing in large part to the political uncertainty.

On Friday on London’s Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April dipped to $110.03 per barrel from $110.35 a week earlier.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for April firmed to $91.21 per barrel compared with $90.60.

PRECIOUS METALS: Gold drifted lower but other precious metals gained in value, with traders reacting to positive Chinese economic trade data and the improving global economic backdrop, analysts said.

Official data showed China’s exports surged more than 20 per cent in February year-on-year despite the Lunar New Year holiday, in another sign of recovery for the world’s second-largest economy.

European stock markets posted gains on Thursday after the European Central Bank and the Bank of England held their key rates, while forgoing any new stimulus measures as policymakers took stock of what appears to be an improving global economic climate.

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, the price of gold edged down to $1,581.75 an ounce from $1,582.25 a week earlier. Silver rose to $28.78 an ounce from $28.01. On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum increased to $1,588 an ounce from $1,579. Palladium climbed to $769 an ounce from $721.

BASE METALS: Base metal prices diverged within a narrow band despite many global stock markets striking impressive peaks on mounting global economic optimism, dealers said. “Metal prices are unable to profit from firm equity markets around the globe ... and are treading water,” noted analyst Edward Meir at brokerage INTL FCStone.

By late Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months rose to $7,741 a tonne from $7,722 a week earlier.

Three-month aluminium drifted upwards to $1,967 a tonne from $1,964.

Three-month lead fell to $2,202 a tonne from $2,247.

Three-month tin grew to $23,682 a tonne from $23,235.

Three-month nickel firmed to $16,576 a tonne from $16,507.

Three-month zinc retreated to $1,982 a tonne from $2,027.

COCOA: Prices extended losses as traders eyed the prospect of healthy supplies in West Africa, which is home to key producers of the commodity that is mostly used to make chocolate.

“The weather is forecast to be warm and dry in West Africa this week. For now, traders expect good mid crop production from West Africa,” said analyst Jack Scoville at Price Futures Group.

By Friday on LIFFE, London’s futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in May dipped to £1,404 a tonne from £1,430 a week earlier.

On New York’s NYBOT-ICE exchange, cocoa for May dropped to $2,093 a tonne from $2,127.

COFFEE: Coffee futures rose in London on supply concerns, amid a strike in Colombia, and as a tree fungus in Central America ravages crops. Leaf rust has caused coffee trees to produce fewer and lower-quality beans.

“Contributing to the (price) increase in particular was the spread of a fungal disease in Central America, which in some countries has already resulted in a state of emergency being declared,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

“Fungal attack is likely to cause production to fall short of expectations further south, too - for instance in Peru.

“What is more, coffee growers in Colombia are on strike: they want a minimum price to be established that will not be subject to events on the global market.”

By Friday on LIFFE, Robusta for May delivery grew to $2,160 a tonne from $2,107 a week earlier. On NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for delivery in May eased to 143.25 US cents a pound from 143.65 cents.

SUGAR: Prices rose in subdued trading conditions.

By Friday on LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in May climbed to $537.10 from $520.40 a week earlier.

On NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for May increased to 18.82 US cents a pound from 18.34 cents.

RUBBER: Prices ended the week flat as Malaysia’s ringgit currency weakened against the US dollar.

The Malaysian Rubber Board’s benchmark SMR20 dropped to 288.40 US cents a kilo from 289.00 cents the previous week.