Crude steady, gasoline down as supply worries ease
By Gene Ramos
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude oil held steady on Thursday while U.S. gasoline futures tumbled for a fourth straight day as concerns about a supply crunch on the East Coast eased.
Oil balanced between downbeat U.S. economic data and persistent, though receding, supply disruption worries as Iran and world powers wrangle over Tehran's nuclear program.
Gasoline futures extended losses to more than 6 percent over the past five days on expectations by traders and analysts that the idled ConocoPhillips' (COP.N: Quote) 185,000 barrels per day refinery in Trainer, Pennsylvania, was likely to be sold soon to Delta Air Lines (DAL.N: Quote).
"Gasoline futures had risen sharply on fears of a shortfall in East Coast refinery capacity, but news about the Trainer refinery is changing that perception," said Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York.
U.S. crude fell sharply in early trade after economic data from the No. 1 oil consumer showed that jobless benefit claims dipped less than forecast, while existing home sales fell unexpectedly and mid-Atlantic factory activity slipped.
The losses followed a sharp decline on Wednesday, when U.S. government data showed that U.S. crude inventories rose last week for the fourth straight week.
The report offset supply concerns due to a series of disruptions across the globe this year, as well as worries about the potential loss of oil from Iran due to EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran set to take effect this summer.
On Thursday, Brent rose early as investors grew less worried about the euro zone on news of strong investor demand for Spanish bonds. It recovered late in the session as investors said they remained skeptical about Spain's fiscal outlook. <MKTS/GLOB> Continued...