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Crude Oil Higher; Retail Sales Flat in April

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By Peter Nurse -- Crude oil prices strengthened Friday, ending a volatile week on a positive note as economic data points to an uneven U.S. economic recovery, dimming concerns of early Federal Reserve tapering.

By 11:00 AM ET (1500 GMT), U.S. crude futures traded 1.7% higher at $64.89 a barrel, while the international benchmark Brent contract rose 1.7% to $68.19. Both contracts are marginally lower on the week, having posted strong gains at the beginning of the week but falling back over 3% on Thursday.

U.S. Gasoline RBOB Futures were up 0.5% at $2.1062 a gallon.

Crude prices were hit midweek after a substantial rise in the U.S. CPI release, not to mention the PPI number, increased concerns that the Federal Reserve would start reigning in its ultra easy monetary policies earlier than expected.

Raising rates typically boost the U.S. dollar, which in turn pressures oil prices because it makes crude more expensive for holders of other currencies.

However, U.S. retail sales earlier Friday came in flat for April, falling short of expectations of a 1% gain, reducing fears of the country’s economy running too hot.

It’s true the monthly gain for March was revised up by a full percentage point to 10.7%, but aggregate spending roughly in line with expectations over the two months will not increase the pressure on the Fed. Additionally, March's data had obviously been skewed by the effect of stimulus checks arriving at households across the country, a one-off effect.

Adding to the optimistic sentiment, the CDC changed its official recommendation on Thursday. Fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear face masks outdoors or indoors in most places. This marks a significant shift toward normalcy for the U.S., increasing the likelihood of a boost in demand ahead of the important summer driving season.

Turning to supply, Colonial Pipeline announced late Thursday it had restarted its entire pipeline system linking refineries on the Gulf Coast to markets along the Eastern seaboard, prompting President Joe Biden to reassure U.S. motorists that fuel supplies should start returning to normal by this weekend.

That said, tracking firm GasBuddy said that gas station outages in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, climbed to 87%, from 79% the day before.

Traders will also focus on the release of the weekly Baker Hughes rig count, at 1:00 PM ET (1700 GMT), for a guide of future U.S. supply.

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