Oil futures: Oil futures slip as data still weighs

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Oil futures edged lower Friday, trading within a narrow range, as traders continued to digest the week's disappointing economic data.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery recently traded down 14 cents, or 0.1%, to $98.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract is set to expire at the close of trading Friday.

Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange fell 61 cents, or 0.5%, to $110.81 a barrel.

Futures extended their losses incurred Thursday following a batch of economic releases that pointed to weakening crude demand in some of the world's biggest oil-consuming countries. The reports sent Nymex crude falling 1.7% on the day.

"After yesterday's sell-off, we're back in the middle of this range between $94 and $101," said Matt Smith, oil analyst at Summit Energy in Louisville, Ky. The contract has stuck to the same narrow trading band since last week's steep sell-off.

Nymex crude is down about 1.4% for the week, a small move compared with its rout earlier in the month, when the contract fell sharply from its two-and-a-half year high of $114.83 a barrel reached May 2 amid a commodities-wide retreat driven by waning economic sentiment.

Such sentiment entered in the market again Thursday, when the Conference Board said the index of U.S. leading economic indicators unexpectedly fell in April, the first decline since June 2010, according to the Conference Board. The report offers an economic outlook for the next three to six months in the U.S., the world's largest crude consumer.

Meanwhile, official government data showed Japan's economy slipped into a recession in the first quarter, as the March 11 earthquake battered economic activity. Japan is the world's No. 3 oil consumer.

Market participants are closely watching reports on economic activity as the U.S. enters the all-important summer driving season, a period of peak gasoline demand. Weak economic readings typically mean consumers have less money to spend on vacations and driving. The disappointing reports are coinciding with pump prices that continue to hover near $4 a gallon.

"High gasoline prices still represent a hazard to sustainable upward buying trends by the consumer," said Jim Ritterbusch, head of oil-trading advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates.

Still, auto club AAA said U.S. auto travel over the Memorial Day weekend should hold up well. AAA said Memorial Day travel will fall just 0.3% from a year ago.

Prices at the pump have retreated in recent weeks, coinciding with the decline in oil futures. A gallon of regular cost an average of $3.89 a gallon, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report said Friday, down from $3.98 a week ago.

Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, recently fell 2.30 cents, or 0.8%, to $2.9030 a gallon. June heating oil slipped 1.37 cents, or 0.5%, to $2.8810 a gallon.



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