Crude oil moved higher again on Thursday in U.S. trading and challenged the key $50 per barrel mark. A weaker dollar and some strong economic news outweighed discouraging economic news and another rise in weekly inventories.
Light sweet crude oil for June delivery finished at $49.62, up 77 cents on the session. Prices rallied as high as $49.92 in the early-going.
Oil's hedge appeal was helped as the dollar fell sharply against the euro Thursday, further retreating from a recently-seen monthly high. The greenback also fell against the sterling and loonie.
In economic news, Labor Department report showed that initial jobless claims rose to 640,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 613,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to rise to 639,000 from the 610,000 originally reported for the previous week.
Meanwhile, a National Association of Realtors report showed that existing home sales fell 3.0 percent to an annual rate of 4.57 million units in March from a downwardly revised level of 4.71 million in February. With the monthly decrease, existing home sales were down 7.1 percent compared to the same month a year ago.
EIA data released Wednesday showed U.S. commercial crude oil inventories increased by 3.9 million barrels in the week ended April 17. Experts were looking for a build of about 3 million barrels for the week. At 370.6 million barrels, inventories are at the highest level in almost 19 years.
Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 800,000 barrels last week. Distillate fuel inventories increased by 2.7 million barrels and propane/propylene inventories increased by 600,000 barrels.
Over the last four weeks, motor gasoline demand was down by 0.4% from the same period last year. Distillate fuel demand was down by 9.4 percent and jet fuel demand was 9.3% lower.
At the pump, AAA data showed gasoline prices averaged $2.063 per regular unleaded gallon across the U.S. This is above the month-ago mark of $1.966 but well-below last year's level of $3.533.
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