NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A string of weak economic reports battered both recovery expectations and energy prices on Thursday. Natural gas futures were the notable exception as a lower-than-expected increase in weekly supplies helped the August delivery contract gain 24 cents, or 5.2%, to settle at $4.85 per British thermal units. The Energy Information Administration said natural gas inventories gained 60 billion cubic feet in the week ended June 25, which was slightly lower than the injection range of 61 billion to 65 billion cubic feet. Crude futures, however, fell back to levels not seen since early June as the August contract shed $2.68, or 3.5%, to settle at $72.95 a barrel. Stocks got off to a rough start on Thursday after the Labor Department reported a spike in initial weekly jobless claims. Claims rose by 13,000 to 472,000 in the week ended June 26, a much greater increase than the additional 1,000 claims that economists had been forecasting. Although markets appeared to be looking past the bearish news, a report from the National Association of Realtors that showed a 30% plunge in May pending home sales quickly pulled stocks and commodities deep into negative territory. Economists had only been expecting a decline of 10.5%. At the same time that the housing data hit markets, the Institute of Supply Management released a disappointing June manufacturing reading of 56.2, which was lower than both the 59-level that economists had anticipated and May's level of 59.7. Energy-related equities weakened alongside the broader market, although it didn't get hit as badly as the basic materials or capital goods sectors. The NYSE Arca Oil index slipped 0.4% lower, but the Philly Oil Service Sector index managed to climb 0.5% higher. Dow components Exxon Mobil ( XOM) and Chevron ( CVX) each finished lower, by 0.8% and 0.6%, respectively. Meanwhile,
BP ( BP), which is reportedly in short-term finance talks with banks to raise $5 billion in loans to help cover its oil spill liabilities, saw its stock gain 1.8%, to $29.39. Elsewhere on the Nymex, the August heating oil contract lost 8 cents, or 3.8%, to settle at $1.94 a gallon, and the August gasoline contract shed 6 cents, or 3.1%, to settle at just below $2 a gallon.
--Written by Melinda Peer in New York.