(Crude oil story updated for Thursday market close)NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Oil prices climbed above $75 on Thursday, and stayed there, as a decline in initial jobless claims spurred the markets higher, and a key government crude oil inventory report showed a larger than anticipated decline in crude stockpiles. Crude for August delivery gave back its big early gains at midday on Thursday, but recovered later in the afternoon to a settle price of $75.44. The trading in oil matched the larger market moves, with big morning gains trimmed by midday, but the markets resurgent near the close. Crude oil reached an intra-day high of $75.90 on Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Thursday's crude oil trading continued the Wednesday rally, when crude broke a six-session losing streak, with the August crude contract settling at $74.07. The closely watched U.S. Department of Energy crude inventory report showed an increase in gasoline and distillate stockpiles. U.S. crude oil inventories decreased by 5 million barrels for the week ended July 2, a bigger decline than expected by analysts surveyed by Platts, who had forecast a decline of 3.5 million barrels of oil. Analysts polled by Reuters expected an even smaller decline of 2.3 million barrels. Gasoline inventories increased by 1.3 million barrels last week, while distillate fuel inventories increased by 300,000 barrels, according to the Department of Energy. Late on Wednesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that crude inventory fell by a larger than expected 7.3 million barrels, twice the expectation of economists who had predicted a decline in petroleum stockpiles of 3.5 million barrels.
The government crude inventory report, more closely watched than the American Petroleum Institute report released after the market close on Wednesday, matched the API data in terms of a larger than expected drop in crude inventories. API numbers showed, however, a decrease in gasoline and distillate stockpiles, while analyst forecasts of an increase for both matched the government report. The markets watch the crude inventory numbers for signs of economic demand. Brent crude ended the day on Thursday trading up $1.50 to $75.01 a barrel, off its Thursday morning trading high, but well above the previous day's settle price of $73.51. Gasoline futures settled above $2.05 on Thursday afternoon, 3 cents above the Wednesday settle price of $2.02. August heating oil contracts settled just above $2 on the Nymex, rising a littel from Wednesday's settle price just under $1.98. Among oil companies Anadarko Petroleum ( APC) led returns for the second straight day, up 7% on Thursday. Anadarko has added $5 to its share price over the past two trading sessions. BP ( BP), which has rallied more than 20% since its oil spill low of $27 on June 25, was up 1.6% on Thursday. Total ( TOT), and Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A) had the biggest gains among the integrated oil companies on Thursday. Shell was up 3% and Total was up by 2.3%.
Chevron ( CVX) finished the day up 1.4%. Exxon Mobil ( XOM) and ConocoPhillips ( COP) ended trading on Thursday up less than 1%. Natural gas contracts on the Nymex were lower than the Wednesday settle of $4.56 by 17 cents on Thursday, settling in afternoon trading at $4.39. The Energy Department on Thursday reported an increase of 78 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage inventories for the week ended July 2, slightly above a market forecast of an increase at 70 billion cubic feet to 74 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage, according to a survey of analysts by Platts. There was a spate of international market decisions on Thursday that helped provide a boost to trading. The European Central Bank kept a key interest rate unchanged at 1%, as expected. The ECB also said that investors were too pessimistic about the Euro Zone's ability to contain its debt crisis, and the euro reached its highest level since May. The International Monetary Fund also upped its global growth forecast. Initial jobless claims in the U.S. fell by 21,000, more than was expected, an encouraging sign for the U.S. economic recovery. Though the latest batch of retail sales numbers were a mixed bag, with half the retail stores missing Street estimates, but some big chain stores, like Costco, outperforming. -- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.