Oil prices fell for a fourth day Thursday after disappointing economic news triggered worries about whether demand would pick up at all during the typically busy summer season.
Benchmark crude for August delivery dropped $2.68, or 3.5 percent, to settle at $72.95 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
A series of reports revealed more negative news about the U.S. economic recovery: jobless claims rose more than expected last week; construction spending declined in May and the number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase homes dropped in May to the lowest level on record dating from 2001.
The developments could prompt consumers to cut back spending on energy products, perhaps forgoing long driving trips for vacations at a time when oil and gas usage typically increases.
"You've got a bunch of things along those lines that are just not helping right now," analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover said in an interview.
Retail gasoline prices also continue to languish.
The national average for retail gasoline prices dipped .01 cent to $2.754 a gallon Wednesday, according to Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. The price is up about 0.1 cent from a week ago and 12.4 cents from a year ago. Most analysts had expected a run up above $3 by July 4.
Natural gas prices rose slightly after the government said stockpiles grew by 60 billion cubic feet to 2.684 trillion cubic feet for the week ended June 25. Analysts had forecast an increase of 61 billion cubic feet to 65 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage inventories, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
In Nymex trading, August natural gas rose 23.8 cents to settle at $4.854 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In July contracts, heating oil fell 7.58 cents to settle at $1.9385 a gallon and gasoline dropped 6.28 cents to settle at $1.9976 a gallon.
In London, Brent crude gave up $2.67 to settle at $72.34 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.
Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Pablo Gorondi in Hungary contributed to this report.
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