* Boehner warns of White House inaction on fiscal cliff
* Drop in U.S. jobless claims helps limit crude losses
* Coming up: CFTC positions data 3:30 p.m. EST Friday
(Adds detail, updates prices)
By Joshua Schneyer
NEW YORK, Dec 13 Oil prices fell on Thursday as
worries about the economic impact of a U.S. fiscal crisis
overshadowed improvements in U.S. jobs data and retail sales.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner
charged on Thursday that the White House seemed willing to
"slow-walk our economy right up to - and over - the fiscal
cliff," underscoring a lack of progress in talks between
Congress and the White House to avert tax increases and spending
cuts in 2013 that may risk a recession.
The comments came after government data earlier on Thursday
showed U.S. initial jobless claims fell to a near four-year low
last week and retail sales rebounded in November, indicating a
U.S. economic recovery may be picking up.
"The U.S. data took our minds off the fiscal cliff for a few
moments, but the possibility that going over the cliff might
cause a recession continues to limit crude prices, along with
high inventories and relatively warm temperatures in the U.S.,"
said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
European Brent crude for January delivery, whose
contract expires on Friday, fell $1.59 to settle at $107.91 a
barrel. U.S. crude futures for January fell 88 cents to
settle at $85.89.
Crude prices fell as U.S. equity prices also dipped and as
the U.S. dollar gained against a basket of foreign currencies,
which can make dollar-denominated commodities such as oil more
expensive for foreign currency holders.
The oil price fall came after commodities and equities
values had risen on Wednesday following the U.S. Federal
Reserve's announcement of plans for more monetary stimulus.
Members of the Organization of the Oil Exporting Countries
(OPEC), which pumps more than a third of the world's oil, met in
Vienna on Wednesday and agreed to keep their output quotas of 30
million barrels per day unchanged.
But tension in the Middle East continued to fuel worries
about the potential for oil supply disruptions, limiting any oil
Iran ended a round of talks with the United Nation's nuclear
watchdog on Thursday and reported they had made progress and
would continue in January. The U.N. agency did not immediately
comment on the talks. Tensions have run high over Iran's nuclear
program, with international sanctions cutting into Iran's oil
U.S. crude was headed for a modest weekly gain, but futures
are on track to end the year down around 12 percent from the
2011 close of $98.83. Brent crude has also posted a gain in the
week so far, and stands around $1 a barrel higher than its $107
price at the end of last year.
U.S. heating oil and RBOB gasoline futures
also slipped on Thursday, on news that a shut-in crude unit at
Motiva's 600,000 barrel per day Port Arthur, Texas, refinery
could be restarted quickly after a small fire affected it
earlier in the week.
OPEC STANDS PAT
OPEC agreed on Wednesday to retain its output quotas at the
same levels it has kept since 2011 despite the prospect of
rising inventories in the first half of next year.
"It became clear once again that the cartel is relatively
unwilling to act, especially when prices are high," Commerzbank
commodity analysts said in a note.
The target is higher than is required for OPEC to meet
demand next year, some market observers say, but the excess
supply has cushioned the impact on prices from a drop in Iranian
oil exports due to sanctions.
(Reporting by Joshua Schneyer and Robert Gibbons. Additional
reporting by Shadia Nasralla in London and Florence Tan in
Singapore; Editing by Peter Galloway and Alden Bentley)