WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices were little changed in early Thursday trading, though underlying factors in the U.S. economy could throttle any forward momentum.
Oil prices moved higher during the previous session after Iraq's oil minister said during a state visit to neighboring Kuwait that his country was committed to cutting as much as 210,000 barrels of oil per day from production starting next month. Iraq is party to an agreement from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to curb output in an effort to ease the supply-side strains that hammered oil prices early this year.
Oil markets were relatively flat to start the trading day as investors waited for the last batch of inventory data for the year from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Industry data from the American Petroleum Institute this week show a build of around 4.2 million barrels for the week ending Dec. 23, while a survey from S&P Global Platts forecasts a draw of around 1.5 million barrels.
The price for Brent crude was up 0.15 percent from the previous session to $57.04 per barrel. The U.S. benchmark price for oil, West Texas Intermediate, was down 0.3 percent to open the day at $53.90 per barrel.
EIA data are published about an hour and a half after the market in New York opens. Before the bell, the U.S. Labor Department reported first-time claims for unemployment last week declined 10,000 from the previous week and the less-volatile four-week moving average was down 750 from last week's estimate.
Crude oil prices drifted lower last week after reports of weakness in the retail sector and sluggish consumer spending. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors this week reported pending home sales in the United States dropped to their lowest level in nearly a year because of an increase in mortgage rates. The NAR said the rate hike and climbing home prices may be hurting budgets for many prospective buyers.
Elsewhere, two of the world's leading oil and gas producers reported positive gains for the last week in 2016. Norway this week awarded more drilling rights after posting gains in overall production. Russia, meanwhile, said its financial outlook for next year was better than initial government forecasts as rising crude oil prices support an economy that depends in part on oil revenue.