Crude futures Wednesday settled somewhat higher in a low-key trading day dominated by modest swings in a tight range.
Oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange for December delivery settled at $86.32 per barrel, up 94 cents or 1.1%. Brent oil futures settled at $109.61, up $1.35.
With few major headlines to guide trading, market participants were looking ahead to Thursday's release of U.S. oil inventories by the Energy Information Administration. Crude-oil inventories increased by 2.0 million barrels in the week ended Friday, according to a Dow Jones survey of 11 analysts.
"The market is decidedly ambivalent," said John Kilduff, a trader at Again Capital.
Traders did briefly bid up oil prices following headlines that Israel on Wednesday assassinated a top Hamas military commander in a strike on Gaza City, a move that drew a strong reaction from Hamas. But the rally couldn't get above the day's high of $86.65 per barrel. The low price Wednesday was $84.93.
"It's a modest reaction to what's kind of modest news at this point," Mr. Kilduff said.
"To break out of this range, you'll need something a bit more concrete," said Tariq Zahir, managing partner and oil trader at Tyche Capital Advisors.
Market participants said Wednesday's release of economic data continued to tilt the market in a somewhat negative direction. In spite of Wednesday's higher closing price for oil, the market is fixated on "bearish fundamentals," Mr. Zahir said.
Retail and food service sales fell 0.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted $411.59 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a 0.2% decrease.
The Commerce Department said Hurricane Sandy had both positive and negative effects on the data. Some stores reported a drop in sales because storm damage forced them to temporarily or permanently close or they saw reduced business because of fewer customers. But other retailers experienced a sales boost as shoppers stocked up on emergency supplies, like gas and food, ahead of the storm and then purchased more goods if they were forced out of their homes.
U.S. wholesale prices declined in October for the first time in five months as gasoline and new car costs fell during the month.
The producer price index, which measures how much manufacturers and wholesalers pay for finished goods, decreased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in October from a month earlier, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast overall producer prices to rise 0.2%.
Front-month reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled at $2.679 per gallon, up 2.52 cents. Heating oil futures settled at $2.988 a gallon, up 2.74 cents.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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