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Oil Prices Gain on Retail Sales Data

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil prices held onto positive territory Friday morning, taking direction from an uplifting retail sales report and a move by European regulators to halt short selling.

West Texas Intermediate light sweet crude oil for September delivery was rising 44 cents to $86.10 a barrel after achieving a five-day high of $87.18. The October Brent crude oil contract was up 35 cents to $108.37.

While oil prices had come off a bit after the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment reading dipped more-than-expected to 54.9 in August -- a low not seen since the 1980s -- prices remained in positive territory thanks to a strong retail sales report and efforts by European regulators to restore certainty back into the markets.

The Census Bureau said Friday that retail sales rose 0.5% in July, meeting economists' expectations, after rising 0.3% in June.

Excluding autos, sales still showed a 0.5% increase, which exceeded forecasts for a rise of 0.2%. In June, retail sales, excluding autos, advanced 1%.

In Europe, traders shrugged off news that France's economy had unexpectedly stalled in the second quarter and euro zone industrial production fell 0.7%. Instead, the focus shifted to French, Spanish, Belgian and Italian regulators who announced plans to ban short selling of select financial stocks for fifteen days beginning Friday.

Natural gas futures for September delivery were sliding 0.7% to $4.078 per million British thermal units as the period for potentially-output disruptive tropical storms approached its peak.

Natural gas prices surged 2.6% to settle at a seven-day closing price high of $4.108 Thursday after the Department of Energy reported a smaller-than-expected storage build of 25 billion cubic feet for the week ended Aug. 5.

It was the smallest injection so far this year.

Shares of oil and gas stocks were largely gaining ground. EOG Resources (EOG - Get Report) was rising 2.4% to $95.38; Apache Corporation (APA - Get Report) was up 0.3% to $103.44; Chesapeake Energy (CHK - Get Report) was advancing 2.7% to $31.72; SandRidge Energy (SD - Get Report) was spiking 2% to $7.65; QR Energy LP (QRE) was rising 1% to $18.70; Southern Union Company (SUG) was flat at $41.68; and Energy Transfer Equity (ETE - Get Report) was adding 1.9% to $39.68.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.
Copyright 2011 Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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