Economic News Lifts Oil

NYSE: COPNew York, February 16th ( – In recent weeks, it has been one of two countries, or a combination of both, moving oil prices. Those two suspects are Greece and Iran for the obvious reasons that have been mentioned here many times recently. Believe it or not, the U.S., far and away the world’s largest oil consumer, finally got in on the act today, moving the oil futures thanks to some positive economic data. NYMEX-traded crude for March delivery gained half a percent to close at $102.31 a barrel after the Labor Department said weekly jobless claims fell by 13,000 to 348,000 last week. That easily topped the weekly reading of 365,000 economists expected.


The Commerce Department said U.S. housing starts in January rose 1.5% to an annual clip of 699,000 from the revised December reading of 689,000. All of that was good enough to lift crude futures and send the PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish (NYSE: UUP) down by almost 0.4% on nearly double the average daily turnover.


As measured by the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSE: BNO), Brent continues to soar. BNO was up another 0.8% today, extending its run of outperformance against the United States Oil Fund (NYSE: USO). Year-to-date, BNO is up more than 11% while USO is up a little less than 3%.


A triple-digit gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average was helped in large by gains of about 1.5% each for Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX). ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), the third-largest U.S. oil company, fell almost 1% and figuring out why is somewhat hard. It was a good day for high-beta stocks and the company announced the sale of its Vietnam operations for $1.3 billion.  That news should not have caught anyone by surprise because Conoco has pledged to sell billions of dollars in non-essential assets over the next few years and that cash will likely be used for dividends, buybacks or increase oil production.


Bottom line: It’s strange the stock was down today, particularly without any overtly negative headlines.  Speaking of headlines, Apache (NYSE: APA), the second-largest U.S. independent oil company, fell six cents after reporting a 75% increase in fourth-quarter profits. The company ended 2011 with proven reserves of 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent, up 1 percent from 2010, according to the Associated Press. Today’s slight pressure on the shares may have just been a case of some profit taking as the stock is up more than 19% year-to-date.


Rival Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC) rarely sees profit-taking these days. Today’s gain was small and happened on light volume, but it puts the stock less than $1 off its 52-week high. 

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