Commodity Corner: Oil Settles Higher on Mixed Data

January crude oil futures edged upward Thursday, bolstered by lower first-time jobless claims but tempered by a stronger dollar.

Oil settled nine cents higher to end the day at $88.37 a barrel after the U.S. Department of Labor issued its weekly report on initial claims for unemployment insurance. The Labor Department announced that the number of seasonably adjusted first-time claims fell by 17,000 last week to 421,000.

The euro, however, weakened against the greenback after Fitch Ratings downgraded Ireland's sovereign ratings to BBB+ from A+ in response to the debt crisis there. A stronger dollar makes oil and other dollar-denominated commodities less attractive to buyers holding other currencies.

Oil peaked at $89.42 and bottomed out at $87.71 Thursday.

U.S. Department of Energy data showing a lower-than-expected decline in inventories last week prompted a selloff Thursday. Natural gas for January delivery, on the heels of a recent rally prompted by cold weather throughout much of the country, fell more than 17 cents to settle at $4.435 per thousand cubic feet.

The Energy Information Administration estimated that the amount of working gas in storage in the Lower 48 States was 3,725 billion cubic feet as of December 3—a net decline of 89 Bcf from the previous week. Although last week's gas stocks were 57 Bcf lower year-on-year, they were 332 Bcf above the five-year average of 3,393 Bcf for this time of the year.

January natural gas traded within a range from $4.46 to $4.64.

Front-month gasoline settled at $2.34 a gallon Thursday, translating into a four-cent gain. The gasoline futures price fluctuated from $2.30 to $2.36.