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Oil below $74 on disappointing economic reports

Oil below $74 on disappointing economic reports

Natural gas prices slid Thursday for the fourth straight day as a fresh stack of economic data provided little evidence that the U.S. will increase its appetite for oil and gas anytime soon.
Benchmark crude for March delivery fell 3 cents to settle at $73.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising to $74.49 earlier in the session.
The Energy Information Administration said that natural gas supplies dropped by 86 billion cubic feet last week, less than analysts expected.
During the past year, the U.S. has been working off a massive oversupply of natural gas, which is used to heat homes and run power generators. But the EIA report said that the 2.52 trillion cubic feet in storage is still above the five-year average for this time of year.
The natural gas contract for March delivery gave up 8.6 cents to settle at $5.138 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Oil prices doubled from February to December last year as experts predicted that Americans would start burning more fuel as the economy recovered. That hasn't happened yet, and this week government data continued to show the U.S. economy still needs time to wake up.
"We keep kicking this market to see if it's alive and it doesn't really move," analyst Peter Beutel said.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average for jobless claims rose for the second straight week. The Commerce Department added that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods increased only slightly in December and less than what economists expected.
The Dow Jones industrial average skidded 125 points in midafternoon trading after falling five of the last eight days.
Meanwhile, the euro broke below $1.40 Thursday for the first time in six months as investors bought up the dollar in search of safety following the disappointing economic reports.
In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil added less than a penny to settle at $1.9191 a gallon, while gasoline dropped 2.18 cents to settle at $1.9174 a gallon.