BANGKOK (AP) — The price of oil fell to near $95 per barrel Friday after new signs of a choppy economic recovery in the U.S.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 12 cents to $95.04 a barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 86 cents to close at $95.16 on the Nymex on Thursday.
Applications for U.S. unemployment aid rose last week by 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 360,000, the highest in six weeks, the Labor Department said. A report on housing was neutral, while manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region fell.
That data came on top of the 17-nation euro region remaining mired in recession after contracting for a sixth-straight quarter in the January-March period.
"Several forces should keep the region in recession, including continued fiscal austerity, poor credit conditions in peripheral economies and weak external demand," analysts at Capital Economics said in a market commentary.
"The US is the only major advanced economy to have achieved steady growth since 2009. The latest data have been mixed, but the fundamentals look strong enough to sustain a solid, if unspectacular, recovery."
Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 6 cents to $103.72 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline rose 0.6 cent to $2.869 a gallon.
— Heating oil rose 0.1 cent to $2.91 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 0.2 cent to $3.934 per 1,000 cubic feet.
BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were mixed Friday as investors digested a slew of disappointing data from the U.S. ahead of the release of a key measurement of the country's economic outlook.
Investors were looking ahead to the Conference Board's index of leading indicators for April, to be released later Friday. The index is designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out. Analysts hope the figures will balance out several discouraging economic reports released Thursday, including a jump in unemployment aid applications to their highest level in six weeks.
Britain's FTSE 100 fell marginally to 6,684.26. Germany's DAX retreated 0.4 percent to 8,332.22. France's CAC-40 was less than 0.2 percent down at 3,972.01. Wall Street, however, appeared ready to rally again: Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.1 percent to 15,225 and S&P 500 futures added 0.1 percent to 1,649.70.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7 percent to close at 15,138.12, reversing a lower open. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 5,180.80, pushed up by gains in BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company. The stock rose 1.9 percent on bargain-hunting. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.3 percent.
Benchmark in mainland China and Indonesia also rose while those in Taiwan, India, Singapore, New Zealand and the Philippines fell. Markets in Hong Kong and South Korea were closed for public holidays.
Evan Lucas of IG Markets in Melbourne said market declines could be explained by investors cashing in their gains following strong rallies. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index has returned 45 percent so far this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 has delivered a terrific first four months. It's up 16 percent.
"There is always an uneasy feeling underlying the markets when they start making all-time highs," Lucas said.
Shares linked to gold, which has suddenly fallen afoul of investors like George Soros, dropped. Australia's Newcrest Mining was down 2.3 percent. Lao Feng Xiang, a major, Shanghai-listed gold retailer, fell 0.5 percent.
Corporate earnings, which have been helping to power Wall Street to all-time highs, took a step back on Thursday after Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, reported a disappointing first-quarter profit and acknowledged a sales slump. Personal computer maker Dell posted dismal first quarter earnings.
Markets were also reacting to comments by John Williams, head of the Federal Reserve's San Francisco branch, who told an audience that the Fed could end its bond-buying program this year. But Williams' comments made clear that the Fed would only curtail its stimulus effort when the economy looked strong enough. The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 both dropped Thursday, having closed at record highs the day before.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 21 cents to $94.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 86 cents to $95.16 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2866 from $1.2907 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.55 yen from 102.06 yen.
Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson
WASHINGTON (AP) — The organic food industry is gaining clout on Capitol Hill, prompted by rising consumer demand and its entry into traditional farm states. But that isn't going over well with everyone in Congress.
Tensions between conventional and organic agriculture boiled over this week during a late-night House Agriculture Committee debate on a sweeping farm bill that has for decades propped up traditional crops and largely ignored organics.
When Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., a former organic farmer, offered an amendment to make it easier for organic companies to organize industrywide promotional campaigns, there was swift backlash from some farm-state Republicans, with one member saying he didn't want to see the industry get a free ride and another complaining about organics' "continued assault on agriculture."
"That's one of the things that has caught me and raises my concerns, is that industry's lack of respect for traditional agriculture," said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., referring to some organic companies' efforts to reduce the number of genetically modified crops in the marketplace.
At the same time, Scott acknowledged that he and his wife buy organic foods.
Growing consumer interest in organics has proved tough for some Republicans on the committee to ignore. Eight Republicans, most of them newer members of the committee, joined with all of the panel's Democrats in supporting the amendment, which was adopted 29-17.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican who owns a farm equipment business and a corn and soybean farm, said she supported the amendment not only because helping organics is good for agriculture but because many of her constituents eat organic foods.
"Organics are a niche market in agriculture with a growing market share, so it makes sense for me to allow farmers to invest some of their own funds to promote their products," she said.
The amendment would allow the organic industry to organize and pay for a unified industry promotional campaign called a "checkoff" that is facilitated by the Agriculture Department but is no cost to the government. These promotional programs have traditionally been limited to individual commodities or crops, producing familiar campaigns like "Got Milk?" and "Beef: It's What's for Dinner."
The amendment would not set up such a program for organics, but it would allow USDA to approve an organic promotional campaign if the industry decided it wanted one. Laura Batcha of the Organic Trade Association says one reason the industry would approve a campaign is that many organic producers are concerned that consumers don't understand that products labeled "natural" aren't necessarily organic, which requires certification.
The organic industry has exploded in the last decade, with $35 billion in sales and 10 percent growth just last year. There are more than 17,000 certified organic businesses in the country.
Producers of organic crops and conventional crops have long been at odds, as organic products have grabbed market share — more than 4 percent of food and beverage sales in 2011 — and the industry has advertised organic foods as healthier than other foods. Organic products are required to be certified by the USDA and are grown without pesticides and genetically modified ingredients, mainstays of traditional agriculture.
Government-managed promotional checkoff programs like the one that would be allowed under the amendment are required to be positive and not disparage other products, and some lawmakers seemed wary that such a campaign would be possible.
"How do I present organic pork without disparaging non-organic pork?" asked House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who opposed the amendment.
Mike Conaway, R-Texas, took issue with part of the amendment that would allow the organic producers to opt out of other commodity campaigns, an option that isn't given to conventional producers.
"Looks to me like they have a free ride on this thing," Conaway said, in an at times angry exchange with Schrader.
Despite the rancor, the chances that the amendment will become law are good, as the Senate Agriculture Committee added the same amendment to its version of the farm bill.
Schrader told his colleagues that embracing organics is essential to appealing to consumers in a time when big farms are often demonized by popular culture. He said that many young people are coming back to farms because of nontraditional agriculture.
"American agriculture is under siege," he said. "Urban folks do not understand where their food and fiber comes from. ... The point here is to hopefully position American agriculture where we're not always trying to catch up to what the American consumer wants."
Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mcjalonick