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Oil fluctuated as U.S. retail sales rose less than expected in November and first-time claims for unemployment insurance declined to a nine-week low.
Prices were little changed as the Commerce Department said sales gained 0.3 percent last month. The median forecast of economists called for a 0.5 percent gain. Applications for jobless benefits fell to 343,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, the fewest since Oct. 6.
The gain in November’s retail sales followed a 0.3 percent decrease in October, Commerce Department data showed. Car sales jumped to a four-year high, in part because Americans in Hurricane Sandy’s path replaced damaged vehicles.
Last week’s jobless claims were less than the 369,000 economists had expected. The four-week moving average, a less-volatile measure of claims, decreased to 381,500 from 408,500.
Consumer confidence in the U.S. stagnated last week, showing a lack of improvement since October. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index slipped to minus 34.5 in the period ended Dec. 9, the lowest level in six weeks.
The U.S., the world’s biggest oil-consuming country, used 18.8 million barrels a day in 2011, or 21 percent of the global total, according to BP Plc (BP/)’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
Investors also watched budget debates in Washington. Republicans have “some serious differences” with President Barack Obama’s budget proposals, House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday.
Crude for January delivery traded in a range of $86.06 - $86.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are down 12 percent this year.
Brent for January settlement on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange slid 57 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $108.93 a barrel.
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