Commodity Corner: Crude Slides on Consumer Sales Data

Crude futures dove to its lowest in 11 weeks as traders' concerns nationalized, focusing on U.S. economic reports and the abundance in stockpiles.

Benchmark crude fell 49 cents, settling at $84.32 a barrel, down 0.6% from yesterday. According to the Commerce Department, U.S. retail sales rose by 0.3 percent in January. The increase was only one-half of what analysts had expected. As the world's largest oil consumer, the economic well-being of the U.S. holds great sway in fluctuating oil prices.

As refineries prepare for higher fuel demand for the summer season, analysts anticipate a rise in crude stocks over the next couple of weeks. Refineries perform seasonal maintenance to prepare for the summer driving season.

Further pressuring crude prices is concern over the political unrest escalating in the Middle East. Anti-government protests have spread to Algeria, Bahrain and Iran. Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), after Saudi Arabia. Traders fear an increase in turmoil may disrupt oil shipments from the Middle East.

The intraday range was $83.85 to $85.97 a barrel Tuesday.

Meanwhile, natural gas for March delivery rose on cooler weather forecasts and bargain buying. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported a general economic index increase to 15.4 in February, up from January's 11.92. According to traders, an increase in manufacturing activity can lead to an increase in gas demand.

Natural gas settled at $3.969 per thousand cubic feet, up 4.4 cents, after trading between $3.891 and $3.996 Tuesday.

Front-month gasoline lost nearly three cents, ending Tuesday's trading session at $2.488 a gallon. Gasoline peaked at $2.53 and bottomed out at $2.46.