Crude-oil futures prices settled at a three-week high Friday amid mixed signals on a sustained economic recovery in the world’s biggest oil consumer. U.S. benchmark crude mustered a modest gain, but ended well below the high of the trading session as market participants weighed fresh data. The Federal Reserve said U.S. industrial production rose 0.7% in February, exceeding economists’ forecasts and eclipsing concerns over a sharp drop in consumer confidence and a rise in consumer prices.
The Thomson-Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 71.8 in mid-March, its lowest level since December 2011 and down from 77.6 in February. Economists have expected the reading to move up to 78. Also Friday, the Labor Department said the consumer price index in February rose 0.7%, the biggest gain since June 2009, led by higher gasoline prices. “We are seeing some strong signs, but whether they are strong enough is still up in the air,” said Gene McGillian, analyst and broker at Tradition Energy. He noted that oil prices have recovered from two-month lows below $90 a barrel hit early this month, but said it’s unclear whether economic and oil-market fundamentals can sustain a further rally.