The price of oil fell back below $100 a barrel Thursday as fresh U.S. data showed a fall in retail sales and a larger-than-expected rise in stockpiles of crude.
By mid-afternoon in Europe, the benchmark U.S. crude contract for March delivery was down 42 cents to $99.95 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, it rose as high as $101.38 on signs of strong Chinese demand before settling at $100.37 a barrel, up 43 cents.
U.S. economic indicators were mostly downbeat on Thursday, suggesting weak demand. Retail sales fell 0.4 percent in January as cold weather affected shopping, while the number of people applying for unemployment benefits rose last week, though not enough to indicate that the jobs market was tightening.
Separately, the Energy Department said crude stockpiles rose 3.3 million barrels last week, more than analysts had been expecting, while distillate stocks, which include heating fuels and diesel, fell far less than anticipated.
Helping support prices was a report from the International Energy Agency, which raised slightly its 2014 forecast for global demand to 92.6 million barrels a day, 125,000 barrels a day above its previous expectations from a month ago.