Commodity prices were mixed Thursday as economic reports delivered more signs of slower growth.
Metals fell across the board while energy and agriculture products were mostly higher following weak reports on factory production, retail sales and applications for unemployment benefits.
Many investors sold metals because of uncertainty about what lies ahead for the economy. "I think you're going to see some more of that until somewhere, somehow, the picture clears up a little bit," said George Gero, vice president of RBC Global Futures.
In a note to clients, MF Global analyst Edward Meir said: "We have a hard time seeing how metal prices could move higher over the course of June given the fact that economic growth is now approaching `stall speed,' particularly here in the U.S."
The Commerce Department said U.S. factory orders fell 1.2 percent in April in part because the March earthquake in Japan disrupted supplies of parts for a number of products. Orders for products expected to last at least three years fell 3.6 percent while non-durable goods orders rose 0.6 percent.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell to 422,000, but the total was still at a level that indicates weak job growth.
There also is more evidence that Americans are cutting out extra expenses because of high costs for gasoline and food. Many retailers reported just modest revenue increases in May, The International Council of Shopping Centers said.
Thursday's data came on the heels of several recent reports that indicate slower economic growth, including a weaker-than-expected reading on a key manufacturing index Wednesday. On Friday the Labor Department releases its closely-watched monthly report on employment.
In metals contracts for July delivery, silver fell $1.492 to settle at $36.202 an ounce, copper fell 2.2 cents to $4.0845 a pound and platinum dropped $6.10 to $1,817.80 an ounce. August gold dropped $10.50 to settle at $1,532.70 an ounce and September palladium lost $8.70 to settle at $770.40 an ounce.
Oil prices pared earlier losses and settled up slightly after the government reported an unexpected increase in U.S. supplies. Benchmark crude for July delivery rose 11 cents to settle at $100.40 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It traded as low as $98.46 a barrel earlier in the day.
In other Nymex contracts, heating oil rose 3.52 cents to settle at $3.0439 per gallon, gasoline fell 0.96 cent to $2.9677 per gallon and natural gas rose 16.5 cents to $4.794 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Grains and beans settled higher.
In contracts for July delivery, wheat rose 10.5 cents to settle at $7.6975 a bushel, corn rose 8 cents to settle at $7.665 a bushel and soybeans rose 20.75 cents to $14.07 a bushel.