Oil Rises; Natural Gas Slumps; Pump Price at $3.50


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

Meanwhile, the average price for a gallon of gasoline at the nation’s gas stations reached $3.50 for the first time since Sept. 18, according to AAA.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery rose 21 cents to $98.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the Nymex contract fell $2.04 to close at $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 $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 data showing a decline in Chinese exports in February. Growth in factory output, investment and retail sales, reported Thursday, was unusually weak. That fueled worries that the world’s second-largest economy is weakening further.

Natural gas fell 11 cents to $4.38 per 1,000 cubic feet, the lowest price since Jan. 21. The nation’s supply of natural gas fell by 195 billion cubic feet last week, the Energy Department said. That 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.

For U.S. drivers, gas prices continue to inch higher. The nationwide average rose 1 penny to $3.50. That’s 19 cents higher than a month ago, but still 21 cents cheaper than at this time last year.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

– Wholesale gasoline shed 2 cents to $2.93 a gallon.

– Heating oil declined 1 cent to $2.92 a gallon.

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