NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil and gold prices rebounded from multi-week lows in subdued trade on Thursday, as traders focused on new signs of a U.S. economic recovery and mounting concerns over Iran's oil exports.
Two days after many commodity markets shuddered at the prospect of the Federal Reserve winding down years of stimulus, prices regained their footing. U.S. trading activity was 25 percent or more below average as many dealers pulled to the sidelines ahead of Easter market holidays.
The 19-commodity Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index .CRB rose 0.5 percent after two days of losses. It shed 0.6 percent for the week, taking its six-week losses to 6 percent.
Prices rose following weekly data showing a fall in U.S. jobless claims to a near four-year low. Oil drew additional support from new reports suggesting U.S. and European sanctions may curtail even more of Iran's shipments than expected.
But many investors appeared hesitant to take on big positions ahead of monthly nonfarm payrolls data on Friday, which is expected to show the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs last month-- the longest stretch of monthly employment gains topping 200,000 since 1999.
"Geopolitical and supply risk worries are pushing oil prices higher ahead of a three-day holiday weekend," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
Because U.S. markets will be shut on Friday, while European exchanges are also shut Monday, it may be several days before traders get an opportunity to react to the jobs data.
Bullion rose $11 or 0.7 percent to $1,630.60 an ounce, rebounding from its biggest two-day drop in a month after a test of key technical resistance at $1,600, where investors had placed heavy put options to protect against further losses.
Commodity traders were also looking ahead to next Tuesday's release of monthly Chinese trade data, expected to show arrivals of refined copper rose further, potentially boosting prices that rallied earlier this week to within 1 percent of its 2012 peaks.
London Metal Exchange (LME) three-month copper closed up $11 at $8,361 a tonne on Thursday. In New York, the COMEX May contract firmed 0.50 cent to settle at $3.7955 per lb, after dealing between $3.7745 and $3.8270.
"Markets are pausing to digest this week's sell-off," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital.
"We're data-dependent. Tomorrow's jobs report and China's trade figures next week are either going to define growth or lay a more cautious element to the global recovery."
Oil rose after two straight days of losses, spurred both by the dimming outlook for further Fed stimulus as well as data on Wednesday showing that total U.S. crude oil inventories jumped by more than 16 million barrels over the past two weeks, the biggest increase since March 2001.
Despite signs of improving supply, traders remained anxious over the prospect of falling shipments from Iran. A major Chinese ship insurer will halt indemnity coverage for tankers carrying Iranian oil, a move that could complicate exports after a European Union embargo takes effect on July 1.
And analysts at JP Morgan said in a research note that the country's output could fall by 1 million barrels per day by the end of June as refiners quit buying.
U.S. May crude settled at $103.31 a barrel, gaining $1.84, after setting a session high at $103.40. For the week, the contract rose 29 cents, ending three successive weeks of losses. ICE Brent crude for May delivery rose $1.09 top $123.43 a barrel, gaining 0.5 percent for the week.
In Chicago, U.S. soybean futures climbed to a seven-month high, buoyed by good export demand due to a drought-damaged South American crop and short-covering ahead of the holiday, while strong weekly export sales data underpinned corn.
Chicago Board of Trade May soybeans gained 14-1/2 cents, or 1 percent, to settle at $14.34 a bushel, securing a second consecutive weekly gain. CBOT May corn rose 1-1/2 cents to $6.58-1/4 per bushel, up 0.2 percent on the day.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will update its monthly world supply and demand estimates and ending stocks forecasts next Tuesday.
Prices at 3:49 p.m. EDT (7.49 p.m. GMT)
CLOSE CHG CHG CHG US crude 103.29 1.82 1.8% 4.5% Brent crude 123.42 1.08 0.9% 14.9% Natural gas 2.089 -0.052 -2.4% -30.1%
US gold 1630.10 16.00 1.0% 4.0% Gold 1630.50 11.14 0.7% 4.3% US Copper 379.55 0.50 0.1% 10.5%
Dollar .DXY 80.066 0.288 0.4% -0.1%
US corn 658.25 1.50 0.2% 1.8% US soybeans 1434.00 14.50 1.0% 19.6% US wheat 638.50 -0.75 -0.1% -2.2%
US Coffee 183.00 -1.75 -0.9% -19.8% US Cocoa 2085.00 2.00 0.1% -1.1% US Sugar 24.58 0.16 0.7% 5.8%
US silver 31.730 0.686 2.2% 13.7% US platinum 1607.60 9.00 0.6% 14.4% US palladium 644.80 12.05 1.9% -1.7%
Editing by David Gregorio