Crude Futures Down on Inventory Build, Econ Woes

U.S. crude oil futures posted a slight loss on the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday, pressured by yesterday's bearish EIA inventory report showing a build in petroleum stockpiles, as well as today's worrisome economic data.

Adding to Wednesday's sell off, the price of light, sweet crude oil for February delivery settled down to $79.39 a barrel. Likewise, natural gas spot prices at the Henry Hub traded lower on Thursday's NYMEX to $5.588 per thousand cubic feet.

Oil prices have taken a hit this week primarily due to changing weather systems on the domestic front, as well as confirmation of still-rising crude product inventories out of the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.

Today, the Labor Department reported that initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 11,000 to 44,000 in the week to Jan. 8 -- higher than analysts anticipated. Also against expectations, sales at U.S. retailers fell in December, a month during which spending is spurred by holiday shoppers. Both factors put a damper on investors' enthusiasm for a near term economic recovery, which in turn suppressed risk appetite on the commodity market.

Usually chasing its denominated commodities to the downside, the greenback continued to gain against the euro today as the European Central Bank's president touted a stronger dollar.

According to Reuters data, open interest positions for February crude options stood at 7,401 for the $80 call and 6,986 for the $80 put. Additionally, positions stood at 4,979 for the $78 put;11,355 for the $75 put; 3,220 for the $81 call; and 10,635 for the $85 call.