Oil Ends Down at $91.75 on Econ Fears
Oil prices fell Thursday, weighed down by growing U.S. economic problems and rising fuel inventories.
Signs that U.S. fuel demand is starting to buckle under recessionary pressures countered expectations that oil cartel OPEC would decide at its meeting Friday to keep crude oil output restrictions in place.
U.S. light, sweet crude for March delivery settled down 58 cents at $91.75, erasing some earlier losses that sent prices down to $89.58 as the U.S. stock market recovered.
London Brent crude lost 32 cents to settle at $92.21 a barrel.
The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless aid surged last week to the highest since October 2005, and consumer spending softened at the end of last year, according to government reports released Thursday.
The weak data added to worries of a recession in the world's biggest oil consumer and helped erase oil's gains from Wednesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates.
The U.S. economic slowdown has helped knock oil prices off peaks over $100 a barrel in early January.
Officials of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, gathering in Vienna for Friday's meeting, have said they will not heed consumer nation calls for more oil to help lower prices and alleviate economic pressures.
"OPEC has already done more than was required from the last meeting, when we increased supply by 500,000 (barrels a day)," said OPEC President Chakib Khelil. "I haven't heard any country mention a production increase."
Ahead of the second quarter, when oil demand traditionally dips between the Northern Hemisphere winter heating season and summer driving season, some officials even said the producer group might have to trim production levels at some point.
"With the lower seasonal crude oil requirement, then perhaps we should take off the market what we have been recently increasing," a delegate from one of OPEC's bigger producers said.
The gloomy outlook for U.S. oil demand growth has sent many speculative investors -- who helped propel oil's rally to triple digits early this month -- into safer havens.
U.S. crude oil and gasoline stocks rose more than analysts had expected last week, according to government inventory data released on Wednesday, amid lower refinery utilization and signs of weak demand growth in the giant U.S. market.