Crude oil back above US$98 a barrel; natural gas falls near two-month low

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The price of oil got a slight boost from positive U.S. economic data Thursday, while natural gas hit a nearly two-month low.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery rose 21 cents to US$98.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the Nymex contract fell $2.04 to close at US$97.99, its first close below $100 in a month.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, dropped 63 cents to US$107.39 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In the U.S., retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture. And the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in three months.

That countered the effect of recent data showing a decline in Chinese exports in February. However, reports Thursday on growth in factory output, investment and retail sales in China were unusually weak, fuelling worries that the world’s second-largest economy is weakening further.

Natural gas fell 11 cents to US$4.38 per 1,000 cubic feet, the lowest price since Jan. 21, even as the Energy Department said U.S. supplies of natural gas fell by 195 billion cubic feet last week, which met the consensus expectations of analysts surveyed by Platts. The drop in the futures price may indicate some traders had been looking for a bigger decline.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline shed two cents to US$2.93 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and heating oil declined one cent to US$2.92 a gallon.

(TSX:ECA), (TSX:IMO), (TSX:SU), (TSX:HSE), (NYSE:BP), (NYSE:COP), (NYSE:XOM), (NYSE:CVX), (TSX:CNQ), (TSX:TLM), (TSX:COS), (TSX:CVE)

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