COMMODITIES-Most markets fall, weak US data prompts demand worry
* Gold falls for sixth sessions, first time in four years * Oil gains as dollar drops after soft U.S. economic readings * U.S. drought shrinks, may be too late for some wheat crops By Carole Vaporean NEW YORK, May 16 (Reuters) - Most commodity markets slipped on Thursday, after a slew of U.S. economic readings pointed to pockets of weakness that investors feared could slow demand, and gold eased as investors rotated into equity markets, which have outperformed the precious metal this year. Brent crude oil futures rose as the dollar declined, but gains were stunted as U.S. equity markets stalled near record-high levels. Investors grew jittery about the economy when the U.S. Labor Department reported a jump in jobless claims. Global equity markets were mostly flat and the dollar fell against the euro, after reports on U.S. housing, labor and regional business conditions pointed to soft spots in the American economy. Factory activity contracted in the mid-Atlantic region in May, ground-breaking for new homes tumbled in April, and new claims for jobless benefits spiked last week, according to three separate reports. With most of the 19-commodity markets in the Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index trading lower, the gauge was off by 0.10 percent, after finishing the two previous sessions about half a percent lower. "The Fed has fallen short of its mandate on jobs and inflation, so the (economic) data highlights the need for further accommodation," said Vassili Serebriakov, FX strategist at BNP Paribas in New York. GOLD FALLS, OIL GAINS Gold fell to a four-week low despite prospects of the Federal Reserve continuing its easy money policy, a stance that impelled many investors to buy gold up to its 2011 record highs. For the first time in more than four years, gold has declined for six straight sessions. Its recent price fall spooked investors in favor of other asset markets like equities. Spot gold prices were down $9.6, or 0.69 percent, at $1,386.60 an ounce. Earlier, it fell as much as 2.5 percent to $1,390.24, its lowest since April 19. Oil prices rose, but Brent oil futures remained below $104 a barrel as soft U.S. economic data added to a bearish outlook on demand. Brent rose 9 cents to $103.77 a barrel, and U.S. oil gained 53 cents to $94.83 a barrel. "What's keeping a cap on (prices) is the fact that the equity markets stalled out at key levels of 1,665," said Brian LaRose, technical analyst with United-ICAP in Jersey City. Brent crude oil would need to jump above $105.25 per barrel and U.S. crude oil above $96.65 in order for bullish momentum to take hold, he said. DROUGHT DISAPPEARING Elsewhere, U.S. corn futures fell 1 percent on profit-taking and optimism over seeding progress and prospects for the new crop, while soybeans rose on tight U.S. supplies, traders said. Wheat fell on technical selling and seasonal pressure as the U.S. harvest approached, with the Chicago Board of Trade July contract hitting a six-week low. Areas of severe drought continue to shrink across many key agricultural areas of the central United States, though it may be too late for some wheat farmers who are preparing for harvest, a new weekly drought report issued by a consortium of state and federal climate experts said. Farmers in the U.S. Corn Belt have been planting frantically this week, taking advantage of mostly favorable weather to catch up after a historically slow start this spring due to weather delays. "Finally we will see some solid progress on corn planting this week, before it gets wet again over the weekend and pushes the farmers out of fields," said Joyce Liu, an analyst at Phillip Futures. Rains this weekend and early next week are likely to stall their progress but also add beneficial soil moisture. "Today's planting delays become tomorrow's moisture and will help the crop get established," said Jim Gerlach, president of A/C Trading in Fowler, Indiana. Prices at 2:34 p.m. EST (1834 GMT) LAST NET PCT YTD CHG CHG CHG US crude 95.19 0.89 0.9% 3.7% Brent crude 103.93 0.25 0.2% -6.5% Natural gas 3.938 -0.132 -3.2% 17.5% US gold 1386.70 -9.50 -0.7% -17.3% Gold 1387.89 -4.40 -0.3% -17.1% US Copper 329.70 3.20 1.0% -9.7% LME Copper 7263.75 65.75 0.9% -8.4% Dollar 83.600 -0.230 -0.3% 8.9% #VALUE! US corn 641.75 -9.00 -1.4% -8.1% US soybeans 1428.50 15.75 1.1% 0.7% US wheat 688.50 -5.25 -0.8% -11.5% US Coffee 140.25 -0.30 -0.2% -2.5% US Cocoa 2299.00 -45.00 -1.9% 2.8% US Sugar 16.83 -0.12 -0.7% -13.7% US silver 22.695 0.037 0.2% -24.9% US platinum 1484.00 -6.70 -0.5% -3.6% US palladium 740.05 11.00 1.5% 5.2%
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