Crude oil futures prices were weaker near $84.50 a barrel early Friday as traders awaited Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech and nervously watched reports of Hurricane Irene's projected East Coast path.
Gasoline prices, which soared 3.1% on Thursday, were off about 1.5% as the flurry of aggressive buying subsided. Traders noted players were squaring their positions in the September gasoline futures contract ahead of its expiration Wednesday, with an eye on potential damage to infrastructure as Irene prepared to make its way from North Carolina into the densely populated New York area on Sunday.
Crude prices maintained losses as the Commerce Department reported second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product showed a 1% rise, in line with forecasts. That was a revision from the original estimate of 1.3% growth.
"The GDP figure was revised down, so that's not helping the economic outlook and equities are (seen) off to a bit of a rocky start," after declines Thursday, said Tom Bentz, a director at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures. "The stock market showed what they think about Bernanke. The market was down and it seems to be losing confidence in what he can say or do," to jump start the economy.
Light, sweet crude oil for October delivery was down 1.1%, or 92 cents, at $84.38 a barrel. Crude traded down to $83.57 a barrel, but hasn't settled below $84 this week. ICE Brent crude for October was down 59 cents at $110.03 a barrel.
Hurricane Irene remains a Category 2 storm early Friday, still on track to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday morning as it continues up the heavily populated U.S. eastern seaboard and a likely encounter with the New York City area sometime Sunday, the National Hurricane Center reported.
The NHC, in its 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) advisory, showed Irene's path unchanged from earlier forecasts and set for a run along the East Coast while maintaining hurricane strength. After passing along North Carolina's Atlantic coast Saturday, Irene is expected to pass just to the east of the Washington, D.C., area and continue along the Delaware and New Jersey coasts toward New York on Sunday. New England also remains in the hurricane's direct path.
Six refineries with a combined crude oil refining capacity of 1.3 million barrels a day are in the path of the storm.
Reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for September were trading down 1.3%, or 3.79 a gallon at $2.93 a gallon. Heating oil for September was down 0.58 cent at $2.9797 a gallon.