NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Despite upbeat U.S. and European labor reports, lingering concerns over U.S. economic momentum throttled crude oil prices in early Thursday trading.
Data from the U.S. Labor Department showed seasonally adjusted first-time claims for unemployment dipped 16,000 from the previous week to 269,000 for the week ending Feb. 6. The less volatile four-week moving average declined 3,500 to 281,250.
Labor is one of the lingering bright spots for a U.S. economy that showed signs of slowing down. Inflation in the United States is below a federal target of 2 percent. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen continues two days of testimony on Capitol Hill, addressing lawmaker concerns about the pace of economy growth.
She told lawmakers Wednesday financial conditions in the United States have "become less supportive of growth."
Oil retreated at the start of trading Thursday amid few prospects the Fed chair would offer more support for a struggling economy during her latest round of testimony.
Brent crude oil fell 2 percent at the open to start the day in New York at $30.24 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price, was down 2.3 percent to $26.81, its lowest point since late September 2003.
Crude oil prices are under pressure from weak demand. While U.S. federal data show a small decline in commercial crude oil inventories, levels remain near 80-year highs.
In Europe, data show some improvements in employment in the latest quarterly review. Marianne Thyssen, the European commissioner for labor mobility, said short-term trends were encouraging, though there were still many people left out of the workforce.
"Although we are starting to see a gradual decline in the number of long-term unemployed, there are still more than 10 million Europeans unemployed during one year or more," she said in a statement.