Crude-oil futures prices settled higher Thursday amid bargain-hunting after a recent steep selloff, with North Sea Brent posting its first gain after six down days.
News of lower exports of Nigerian crude oil buoyed prices of European benchmark Brent crude, which had tumbled in the past six session to its lowest level since July 2. Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSA, RDSA.LN) Nigerian unit said it cut output of Bonny Light crude oil by 150,000 barrels a day and halted exports in order to resolve issues with a key oil pipeline.
Traders said an extended outage in shipments of the Brent lookalike would underpin prices of the European benchmark. But the overall supply-demand picture for oil remains weak, amid stuttering signs of economy recovery in the U.S., the world's biggest oil consumer.
"We are a slave to the economy right now and the picture's not particularly great," said Carl Larry, analyst at Oil Outlooks and Opinions.
June North Sea Brent crude oil futures on the InterContinental Exchange settled 1.5%, or $1.44, higher at $99.13 a barrel, after six days of declines. The June contract traded in a high-low range of near $10 a barrel since April 10, dropping 8%, or nearly $8.50 a barrel in the period.
May-delivery light, sweet crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 1.2%, or $1.01 higher, at $88.20 a barrel, after settling Wednesday at a four-month low.
U.S. benchmark crude has dropped by more than $10 a barrel from highs in early April, as domestic crude oil and gasoline inventories have climbed, while demand for fuels remains sluggish. Front-month Brent, has fallen by about $12 a barrel this month, and the three-day string of prices below $100 a barrel is the longest since June 2012.
"We've lopped off $12 and it looks like we're wrapping up the selloff and starting to stabilize here," said Gene McGillian, broker and analyst at Tradition Energy. "But it's not that all of sudden we have confidence that the economy is improving."
The Labor Department said Thursday the number of U.S. workers applying for jobless benefits last week rose by more than economists had expected. Elsewhere, the Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators posted an unexpected fall in March, as consumers turned gloomy on the economic outlook. The index declined 0.1% in March, its first fall since August, and counter to an expected 0.2% rise recorded in a survey of economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
U.S. gasoline demand dropped to a one-month low and was the lowest for the second week in April in 16 years, government data released on Thursday show. Demand of 8.383 million barrels a day last week was nearly 400,000 barrels a day below the year-earlier level.
The Energy Information Administration forecasted last week that gains in fuel-efficient vehicles will trim spring-summer driving season demand this year to a 12-year low of 8.877 million barrels a day.
Nymex May reformulated gasoline blendstock futures posted the first gain after falling 12%, or 37.25 cents in five of the previous six sessions to a three-month low. The contract settled up 2.65 cents, or 1%, Thursday, at $2.7555 a gallon.
Nymex May heating oil futures settled 4.45 cents, or 1.6%, higher, at $2.7791 a gallon. Prices fell 7.7% over the previous six days to the lowest level since July 2012.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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