The price of oil fell below US$96 a barrel even as the U.S. dollar strengthened against some foreign currencies.

Crude prices have been rising, along with the stock market, and investors appeared to take a break from both Thursday.

Benchmark oil for June delivery fell 85 cents to $95.77 a barrel in morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The U.S. Labour Department reported the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 323,000. Layoffs have receded to pre-recession levels. The less volatile four-week average dropped by 6,250 to 336,750, the lowest since November 2007, just before the Great Recession began.

A more robust hiring environment suggests businesses will be consuming more energy, not to mention people who are again commuting to work.

At the same time, however, the U.S. dollar gained against other currencies, including the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen. Since oil is traded in dollars, a stronger dollar makes oil less appealing to investors using foreign currency.

Energy markets Thursday may also be feeling some pressure from higher-than-expected inflation figures from China. Those rising prices could slow the economy of the world's second-largest oil consumer.

Brent crude, which is a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 43 cents to $103.91 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell one cent to $2.84 a gallon.

— Heating oil was unchanged at $2.92 a gallon.

— Natural gas lost two cents to $3.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington, Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.

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