Oil Prices Lose Grip Of Gains Ahead Of U.S. Data

Benchmark U.S. crude-oil futures fell Thursday, retreating from gains that were earlier ushered in by an unexpected decline in weekly inventories.

Crude-oil prices for June delivery  lost 36 cents, or 0.4%, to trade at $93.94 a barrel in electronic trade.

Later Thursday, investors will look through U.S. economic data, including weekly figures on jobless claims, for signals about future energy demand. Improvement in the labor market is also in focus at the Federal Reserve, which has to decide when it will start tapering down bond purchases that were aimed at stimulating economic growth.

Oil prices on Wednesday swung higher, ending up 9 cents, or 0.1%, on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude supplies fell 600,000 barrels for the week ended May 10. Analysts polled by Platts had projected a rise of 300,000 barrels.

The decline in inventories gave the oil market the push needed to break free from losses stemming from demand worries after France, Germany and the euro zone each posted disappointing reports on quarterly economic activity.

The weak reports, including France’s return to recession, fueled gains for the U.S. dollar , which tends to hurt dollar-denominated oil prices.

Though the EIA’s weekly report was encouraging for those concerned about soft energy demand, crude stockpiles still remain high, at 394.9 million barrels. Last week’s total of 395.5 million was the highest weekly level in at least 30 years, according to EIA data that stretches back to as far as August 1982.

On Thursday, Brent crude oil for July delivery  fell 39 cents, or 0.4%, to $103.29. The futures had risen 1% on Wednesday.

Natural gas for June delivery  picked up 1 cent, or 0.2%, to $4.08 per million British thermal units. The EIA later Thursday will release its update on natural-gas supplies. Analysts polled by Platts expect to see a weekly increase of 93 billion to 97 billion cubic feet.

Natural-gas futures advanced Wednesday after AccuWeather.com released a forecast Wednesday showing another active Atlantic Hurricane season.

June gasoline futures  were unchanged at $2.87 a gallon and June heating oil also held steady, at $2.88 a gallon.

The EIA on Wednesday said gasoline supplies climbed by 2.6 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles rose 2.3 million barrels. Gasoline stockpiles were expected to fall by 800,000 barrels, while forecasts called for a climb of that same amount for distillates, which include heating oil.