Crude oil futures eased Thursday, settling modestly above $100 a barrel after U.S. data showed oil demand in the last four weeks fell to a 15-year low.
Prices had topped $102 early in the session, spurred by news that U.S. weekly jobless claims fell to the lowest level since April 2008.
Those gains were shattered by data from the Energy Information Administration that showed oil use in the world's biggest oil consumer slumped 7.2% from a year earlier in the last four weeks, and was the weakest since April 1997.
Demand for gasoline, the most widely used petroleum product, fell to an 11-year low below 8 million barrels a day in the week ended Jan. 13, the EIA said. U.S. output of gasoline exceeded demand by a record 9.5% in the week, leading to bigger-than-expected rise in inventories. Gasoline stocks are sufficient to cover 28.5 days, a 13-year high, the EIA data show.
"The gasoline side doesn't look good at all," said Gene McGillian, analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. "But we are seeing signs of some kinds of positive aspects for the market," he said, noting the jobless claims report.
Light, sweet crude oil for February delivery settled 20 cents lower, at $100.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The February contract, which expires at Friday's settlement, traded to a session high of $102.06 a barrel for the second straight day. March crude settled 22 cents lower, at $100.54 a barrel.
North Sea Brent crude oil on the ICE futures exchange settled 89 cents higher, at $111.55 a barrel.
Reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for February settled 0.96 cent lower, at $2.8158 a gallon, while February heating oil rose 2.26 cents, to $3.036 a gallon.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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