Oil settles lower on weak economic data

AP News
Posted: May 17, 2011 4:10 PM
Oil settles lower on weak economic data

Oil fell again Tuesday after disappointing reports on factory production and new home construction raised more concerns about the economic recovery and future demand. The dollar fell against other currencies as well, which helped crude regain some losses.

Benchmark crude for June delivery lost 47 cents to settle at $96.91 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped as low as $95.02 at one point in the session.

The price of oil has fallen over 14 percent from a high of $113.52 on May 2.

The Federal Reserve said factory production fell 0.4 percent in April, the first decline in 10 months. A key reason was a drop in auto manufacturing after the Japan earthquake and tsunami led to a parts shortage. Industrial production has risen nearly 11.5 percent since hitting a recession-low in June 2009 but is still below its pre-recession peak in September 2007.

"If your industrial production is down, it means you're not creating as much. It means the overall economic situation isn't that good, meaning that demand for goods probably isn't going to be as strong, including crude oil," Telvent DTN analyst Darin Newsom said. "It's just another bearish economic indicator that we aren't fully on the road to recovery yet."

Meanwhile the Commerce Department reported that new home construction fell 10.6 percent last month from March. Much of the decline occurred because apartment and condominium construction plummeted. The seasonally adjusted rate fell to 523,000 homes per year, which is less than half the 1.2 million homes per year that economists consider a sign of a healthy market.

The dollar initially got a boost from Europe's debt woes, particularly worries that more will have to be done to rescue the Greek economy. Since commodities like oil are priced in dollars, a weaker dollar makes them more of a bargain for buyers who use foreign currencies, so the price falls. Oil got back some of its losses as the dollar weakened later in the day.

Lower oil prices are leading to lower prices at the gas pump. The national average for regular gasoline was $3.944 a gallon on Tuesday. That's about 4 cents less than on Friday but still 11.7 cents more than a month ago, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service.

Cameron Hanover analyst Peter Beutel expects pump prices to decline 60 cents a gallon by Memorial Day. He said that would be the equivalent of putting $80 billion to $85 billion back into the pockets of consumers on an annualized basis.

Drivers across the country have been buying less gas because of high pump prices. The latest weekly survey of retail gas sales from MasterCard SpendingPulse shows demand down for the eighth straight week. Analysts expect the Energy Department on Wednesday to report that the nation's gasoline supplies grew last week, because Americans are using less and refineries are starting to produce more.

Natural gas on Tuesday fell 3 percent, down 13.3 cents to settle at $4.246 per 1,000 cubic feet. Lower factory production means less natural gas is used to generate power.

In other Nymex trading in June contracts, heating oil fell 2.93 cents to settle at $2.8451 per gallon and gasoline futures lost 1.18 cents to settle at $2.9193 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude for June delivery fell 85 cents to settle at $109.99 on the ICE Futures exchange.