Oil prices barely budged Thursday, as concern about weak demand for gasoline and diesel fuel offset solid retail sales data in the U.S.
Benchmark U.S. oil for January delivery rose 6 cents to close $97.50 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The market was buoyed somewhat after the Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November. It was the biggest gain in five months and suggested consumer spending would increase during the winter season.
But there was lingering concern about fuel demand a day after the Energy Department said gasoline and distillate supplies increased last week more than three times what analysts were expecting.
Markets will be looking for fresh direction from next week's policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve. There are increasing expectations that the Fed will start to cut back its monetary stimulus which has helped push investors to commodities like oil in search of profits outpacing low bonds yields.
At the gas pump, the average price for a gallon of gasoline dipped 1 cent to $3.25. That's up 6 cents from a month ago, but still down about 6 cents from this time last year.
In other markets, Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down 74 cents at $108.96 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.
Among other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $2.63 a gallon.
— Heating oil lost 4 cents to $2.98 a gallon
— Natural gas rose 7 cents to $4.41 per 1,000 cubic feet.