Oil surges on economic data ahead of holiday

By Robert Gibbons

NEW YORK (BestGrowthStock) – Oil prices rose more than 3 percent on Wednesday as data that suggested economic recovery is improving and pre-Thanksgiving holiday short covering helped oil post its biggest percentage gain in four months.

U.S. initial jobless benefits claims fell to their lowest level in more than two years last week while consumer spending rose for a fourth straight month in October, fueling hopes the economic recovery is strengthening.

A separate report showed U.S. consumer sentiment rose to its highest level since June.

While U.S. crude inventories rose last week against expectations they would fall, the rise in the government’s weekly inventory report was less than the jump industry reported on Tuesday, leaving broker and analysts relieved.

U.S. crude oil for January delivery rose $2.61, or 3.21 percent, to settle at $83.86 a barrel, snapping a string of three lower finishes to post the highest close since November 15 and biggest percentage gain since July 22.

Prices rose to a $84.25 peak in post-settlement trading.

Total U.S. crude trading volume was above 460,000 lots traded, but was 29 percent below the 30-day average and well below the 62 7,808 lots traded last year on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday.

In London, ICE January Brent crude rose $2.59 to settle at $85.84 a barrel.

“The complex was able to mount a sizable pre-holiday advance with the assistance of continued favorable economic data that easily spilled into the equity space in the process of keeping alive the prospect of increased oil demand going forward,” Jim Ritterbusch, president at Ritterbusch & Associates in Galena, Illinois, said in a note.

The positive economic data also sent U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) higher, breaking a string of two lower finishes. (.N: )

Oil investors focused on the supportive economic reports and shrugged of the stronger dollar and the euro sliding to a two-month low amid worries that Ireland’s fiscal crisis could spread to other countries. (USD/: )

Increasing investor risk-aversion had seen oil prices fall about 8 percent since reaching a 2010 high of $88.63 on November 11.

“Prices are being influenced by Ireland and euro zone debt issues, concerns about whether China is going to over tighten as it tries to fight inflation and last but not least the situation between North and South Korea,” Societe Generale’s global head of oil research Mike Wittner said.

“Markets are jittery and there is the Thanksgiving weekend, so volumes will be light and prices could be volatile,” he said.

U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose 1.03 million barrels to 358.6 million barrels in the week to November 19 as crude imports jumped by more than a million barrels per day, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. (EIA/S: )

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected crude stocks to fall 2.1 million barrels, but the jump reported by the EIA was much less than the American Petroleum Institute’s report late on Tuesday showing stockpiles increased 5.2 million barrels.

(API/S: )

Gasoline stocks rose 1.91 million barrels, the EIA said, against expectations for a 600,000-barrel draw, and distillate stocks fell 541,000 barrels, much less than compared with analyst expectations for a larger 1.2 million-barrel draw.

“It didn’t seem like the inventory data moved the market at all,” said Richard Ilczyszyn senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago. “This is a short cover; we have problems in Korea and elsewhere and traders do not want to go home short ahead of the weekend.”

In the face of the less than bullish inventory data, U.S. refined products futures also surged on Wednesday, getting a boost from news of a Texas refinery fire also helping keep crude oil’s advance fueled.

Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N: ) said late on Wednesday that it’s Beaumont, Texas refinery continued to operate after a small fire in an unspecified process area of the plant that injured one worker.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in New York, Alex Lawler and Zaida Espana in London and Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Oil surges on economic data ahead of holiday