Oil ends just short of $50

Crude prices edge higher Thursday as investors weigh a supply glut with a choppy day on Wall Street.

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By Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Oil ended just shy of $50 a barrel Thursday as investors weighed a glut in supply amid dour sentiment about the economy.

Crude oil for June delivery added 77 cents to finish the day at $49.62 a barrel. Throughout the session, oil prices traded in a tight range, reaching as high as $49.92 and dipping as low as $48.37.

Several reports released Thursday showed continued weakness in the housing and labor markets. The grim reads on the economy weighed on sentiment, and all three major U.S. stock indexes churned, pulling off early morning lows, but unable to gain traction for a rally.

Signs that indicate the recovery could be slow and drawn out weigh on oil prices because an economy in recession demands less oil. Crude oil prices have fallen from $147 a barrel last summer as the recession ticked away at demand.

The Big Three U.S. automakers - General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Ford (F, Fortune 500), and Chrysler - have seen auto sales plummet in the recession as consumers cut back. Thursday, GM announced plans to idle 13 of 20 North American plans.

In the week ended April 18, initial jobless claim filings rose to 640,000, according to a U.S. government report released Thursday. The latest measure on continuing unemployment claim filings rose to a record 6.14 million.

The National Association of Realtors said that existing home sales fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million units, which was 3% lower than the previous month and represented at 7.1% year-over-year decline.

In its weekly inventory report Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration said crude stocks rose 3.9 million barrels in the week ended April 17. Analysts were expecting an increase of 3 million barrels, according to a consensus estimate compiled by Platts, an energy information provider.

According to Platts, U.S. petroleum inventories currently stand at a 31-month high of 1.074 billion barrels.

Gasoline prices: The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline increased for the sixth consecutive day to $2.063, up from the previous day's $2.062, according to survey results released Wednesday by motorist group AAA.

That's down $2.051, or nearly 50%, from the record high price of $4.114 last July.  To top of page

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