Commodity Corner: Oil Jumps on Fear of Don

Oil futures edged higher Thursday as Tropical Storm Don brewed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil trading remained choppy throughout the day Thursday with prices as high as $98.01 and as low as $96.51 a barrel. Front-month crude gained 4 cents to end the session at $97.44 a barrel.

The U.S. Labor Department said the number of claims for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in almost four months last week. According to the report, 398,000 people filed for unemployment benefits; this represents an increase in employment.

In its latest bulletin, the National Hurricane Center reported that Tropical Storm Don has strengthened and is headed toward the Texas coast. Oil majors ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Anadarko have scaled back production and evacuated non-essential from several platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Analysts predict output levels should return to normal by Saturday morning.

Traders played it safe Thursday over lingering uncertainty caused by the U.S. debt-ceiling dispute. With an Aug. 2 deadline looming, lawmakers remain deadlocked over a proposal to raise the debt limit.

The Brent benchmark fluctuated between $117.07 and $118.64 Thursday, before settling at $117.36 a barrel.

Natural gas for September delivery fell by 1.7 percent to $4.24 per thousand cubic feet Thursday, thanks to larger-than-expected stockpiles as reported by the Energy Information Administration. The EIA stated that natural gas supplies grew by 43 billion cubic feet for the week ended July 22. As of July 22, inventories were at 2.714 trillion cubic feet, down 2.3 percent from the five-year average.

The intraday range for natural gas was $4.20 to $4.34 per thousand cubic feet.

Reformulated gasoline lost 0.8 percent to settle at $3.12 a gallon. It peaked at $3.17 and bottomed out at $3.09 during Thursday's trading.