Oil futures inched higher Thursday on the back of an announcement that the world's major central banks will take steps to prevent a credit crunch in Europe.
Before the move was disclosed just as U.S. trading was getting underway, oil prices were relatively flat following a spate of reports showing growth in the U.S. economy continues to lag.
Light, sweet crude for October delivery rose 40 cents, 0.5% to $89.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on ICE Futures Europe exchange was up $2.70, or 2.4%, to $115.10 a barrel, as a report on euro zone employment and an optimistic Goldman Sachs analysis buoyed traders. The Brent October contract expires at the close of trading Thursday.
The ECB said central banks in the U.S., Switzerland, Japan and the U.K. will make a push to improve European banks' access to dollars. The announcement comes amid mounting concern about Europe's ability to deal with its sovereign debt crisis. Signs of economic weakness in the world's developed economies, including Europe and the U.S., have weighed on oil demand and prices in recent months.
In the U.S., jobless claims rose 11,000 to 428,000 for the week ending Sept. 10, the Labor Department said Thursday. The previous week's claims were revised upward slightly, to 417,000 from 414,000. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said August consumer prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4% from July, more than expected, and the core index rose 0.2%, in line with expectations.
"It's basically more of the same," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch & Associates. "The main feature this morning is strength in the nearby Brent contract, which goes off the board here today. There's still limited supply."
The employment data and higher-than-expected inflation weighed, so Nymex futures are likely to stay "choppy-sideways here, probably on into next week," Ritterbusch added. "It's a tough trading environment at the present time."
Other market observers suggested the morning's price moves were the result of a large amount of investment exiting a spread trade between October Brent and Nymex and putting it back on in November, and said it was possible that Nymex could remain around its recent high of $90.52 or even head higher.
Rich Ilczyszyn, a strategist and broker at MF Global, said it was evident from the way the two contracts were behaving as they were being rolled into the next month. Every month, oil futures undergo a so-called roll period, when traders have to sell the near-month ahead of its expiration and set fresh bets in the next-month contract, which will then become the benchmark.
Front-month October reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, recently traded up 6.18 cents, or 2.3%, to $2.7874 a gallon. October heating oil rose 7.6 cents, or 2.6%, $3.0236 a gallon.