Crude oil futures prices were little changed Thursday after mixed U.S. economic data.
New claims for jobless benefits fell by 12,000 to 409,000 in the week ended Aug. 27, the Labor Department said. That was below a consensus forecast for 410,000 claims. At the same time, the department reported worker productivity in the second quarter was revised to show a decline of 0.7%. That compared with a preliminary reading of a 0.3% decline and economists' consensus of a 0.6% decline. Labor costs were also revised upward, throwing up a potential barrier to corporate profit and job growth potential as the economy struggles to recover.
The U.S. reports came amid fresh worries about the economic health of the euro-zone economies, as the manufacturing index for the region fell in August, ending a nearly two-year long string of growth. That news pushed the euro down against the dollar, and muted buying interest in crude. Traders noted that prices of dollar-denominated crude oil contracts becoming more expensive for investors using other currencies when the dollar rises.
Light, sweet crude oil for October delivery was 3 cents higher at $88.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. ICE October Brent crude was 19 cents lower at $111.66 a barrel.
Traders said crude prices also were pressured by the sharp rise of 5.281 million barrels in crude oil inventories reported for the week ended Aug. 26 that was caused by large shipments of oil from the U.S. emergency crude stockpile and higher imports.
Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill., said the recovery from prices below $80 a barrel in mid-August is suspect, given the current market fundamentals.
"The price rally since the beginning of last week across the complex [is] a bit stretched," he said. But he noted that technical charts suggest that a return to near $90 a barrel for the first time since Aug. 4 is in the cards, if crude can settle above $89.19 a barrel. Crude hit a high of $89.25 a barrel, but slipped back.
Traders also were tracking weather forecasts as the busiest month of the Atlantic hurricane season begins. BP and Anadarko both announced Wednesday that they were evacuating non-essential workers from several of their platforms in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical wave and a tropical storm moved toward the area.
The National Hurricane Center said there is a 70% chance that the storm could develop into a hurricane within 48 hours as it moves slowly northward and advised residents of the northern Gulf of Mexico region to closely monitor it. Meanwhile, Hurricane Katia was expected to move east of Puerto Rico early Sunday, with its longer-term track still uncertain.
October delivery heating oil futures were 1.27 cents lower at $3.0713 a gallon, while October reformulated gasoline blendstock futures were 0.37 cent higher, at $2.88 a gallon.