Oil Futures Finish Higher as S&P 500 Aims for Record

Oil futures finished higher Thursday, setting a six-week high as the Standard & Poor's 500 was poised to finish at a record.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery settled 65 cents, or 0.7%, higher, at $97.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's the highest settlement since Feb. 14.

Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange settled 33 cents, or 0.3% higher, at $110.02 a barrel.

Futures rallied as the benchmark S&P 500 pushed higher and was set to surpass its previous record set in October 2007. The index recently rose 0.3%, to 1567.08.

"The stock-market record for the S&P is chipping in here," said John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital in New York. "It's a risk-on day."

Oil futures and equities often trade in tandem since both are considered risky assets that investors use as a bet on economic growth. In addition, crude traders often turn to equities as a barometer of broader economic sentiment.

Despite Thursday's strong stock market performance, several reports put a damper on the crude market earlier in the session, keeping it in negative territory for much of the morning.

Jobless claims rose by a bigger-than-expected 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 last week. The figure was the second straight weekly increase in the filing of unemployment benefits, underscoring the weak pace of hiring in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government released its final revision on fourth-quarter economic growth, saying the U.S. grew at an annualized rate of 0.4%, below the 0.5% rate forecast by economists.

"The jobs numbers today were not very inspiring and GDP was kind of in line," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group, a brokerage in Chicago.

Nymex crude prices have notched gains of roughly 6% so far in March. But analysts have attributed the rally to expectations that the supply glut in the central U.S. had begun to ease, lifting prices there.

The price of Brent crude, regarded as a more reliable global benchmark, is down about 1.2% in March.

Front-month April reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 1.01 cent, or 0.3%, lower, at $3.1054 a gallon. April heating oil settled 0.02 cent lower at $2.9152 a gallon.


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