Crude Rises Along With Equities, Weaker Dollar

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)

Crude-oil futures ended higher Friday, rising with stock markets and helped by a falling dollar, as improving economic data in Europe led to some hopes for strengthening energy demand.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery settled 78 cents, or 0.8%, higher at $103.05 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The May contract expires at settlement Friday and futures for June delivery settled $1.16 higher at $103.88 a barrel.

Brent crude for June delivery on the ICE futures exchange traded 55 cents higher at $118.64 a barrel.

Oil gained as improving data out of Germany and the U.K. early Friday lifted European markets and provided a boost to U.S. stock markets.

European markets were broadly higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were recently up 82 points at 13,046.

The Ifo Institute's index of business confidence in Germany rose to 109.9 in April from 109.8 in March. U.K. retail sales for March rose 1.8% from February, well above expectations of a 0.8% increase.

The improving data also lifted the euro against the dollar. A falling dollar typically helps raise crude prices, as it makes oil cheaper for buyers in other currencies.

With tensions between Iran and the West cooling after recent talks, oil traders have turned their gaze back to the broader economy. But any improvement in Europe would likely raise demand in the region for oil and fuel products.

"We really saw a turnaround in sentiment with the business confidence numbers in Germany," said Matt Smith, an analyst at Summit Energy. "It's just a combination of a few bits of positive data."

Oil prices have fallen steadily from a peak near $110 a barrel in late February. But traders say prices are now consolidating in a tighter band just above $100 a barrel, unable to break below the key psychological barrier or move much higher on improving economic news.

The 50-day moving average, at $104.75 a barrel Friday, is serving as a break on any rallies, said Kingsview Financial market strategist Matt Zeman.

"The failure to extend on the upside is alarming," said Zeman. "It's definitely a technical roadblock."

As prices at the pump approached $4 a gallon in recent weeks, economists had feared rising fuel costs could scuttle the U.S. economic recovery. Now, some market watchers are growing optimistic that gasoline may have peaked ahead of the summer driving season.

Front-month May reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 1.14 cents, or 0.4%, lower at $3.1427 a gallon. May heating oil settled 1.25 cents higher at $3.1376 a gallon.

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