Crude Steps Down to $74 on EIA Build, Econ Uncertainty

After paring off last week's steep declines, crude futures ended a positive week on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday only slightly down to $74 a barrel on bearish news of an additional build in inventories, as well as China's affirmation to make a "gradual" move away from monetary stimulus toward pre-recession levels.

Heading south ahead of the weekend, the price of light, sweet crude oil for March delivery shed more than a dollar from yesterday's final price tag to close on the downside at $74.13 a barrel. However, today's settlement is noticeably higher than last week's exit price of $71.19 a barrel.

Helping to drive the price per barrel of oil down today, the Energy Information Administration released its delayed inventory report spotlighting a higher-than-expected build in gasoline stocks by 2.3 million barrels against the API's forecasted build of 1.6 million barrels.

Additionally, crude inventories gained by 2.4 million barrels in the week to Feb. 5 -- significantly lower than the API's projected build of 7.2 million barrels.

"The inventory report did weigh on the market, but today's price reflects more economic uncertainty in its decline than anything else," contended Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

McGillian underscored the oil market's firm attachment to swings in the broader financial markets as the main impetus for near term prices.

On Friday, the Commerce Department revealed that retail sales on the domestic front rose more than expected in January; however, U.S. consumer sentiment lost its luster at the start of this month, according to the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

On the opposite side of the energy coin, natural gas spot prices at the Henry Hub for March delivery reversed a negative movement at the start of the week by closing Friday's session in positive territory at $5.47 per thousand cubic feet.