* Surprise drop in U.S. jobless claims lifts oil, stocks * U.S. crude gains on improving economic outlook after data * Wheat up for sixth session on robust livestock demand * Copper firms on healthier industrial demand prospects By Carole Vaporean NEW YORK, March 14 Most commodities rose on Thursday, as stronger U.S. labor market data encouraged investors about the outlook for demand for raw materials in the world's largest economy. U.S. oil futures and London's benchmark Brent crude oil prices settled higher, Brent's first rise after four sessions of declines. Wheat, corn and copper also firmed after U.S. data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits declined for a third straight week. But gold was down for most of the session, and other precious metals slipped, with investors betting on riskier assets in light of the improving demand outlook. "The positive economic data with the stronger-than-expected jobless claims bodes well for risk-on assets-meaning stocks and commodities--as the outlook for demand improves," said Adam Sarhan, CEO at New York-based Sarhan Capital. Investors were surprised by the U.S. Labor Department data showing a decline in unemployment claims. The news also boosted U.S. stocks, with the Dow Jones industrial average extending its rally to 10 days in a row. (Full Story) "Every week that claims stay down, it confirms it's not an anomaly, and this is pretty important," said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory Corp in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "The downward trend in jobless claims is, "one of the reasons the market has been strong year to date," he said. The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a bellwether for commodity prices, was 0.49 percent higher late in the session, near the session high at 296. On Wednesday, the session high for the gauge was its loftiest level since Feb. 20. U.S. oil futures rose to the highest settlement price in two weeks, settling 51 cents higher at $93.03 per barrel. Brent crude for April closed 90 cents per barrel higher, or 0.83 percent, at $109.42 as the contract expired. "As long as we have signs that economic conditions are not going to slow, we'll see improvement," said Gene McGillian, analyst and broker with Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. Stock market gains also helped support crude oil prices. The United States is the world's largest energy consumer. While copper was helped by the sturdy jobs numbers, gold and other precious metals were pressured by sellers seeking higher yields in other commodity markets and in equities. April benchmark gold futures in New York eked out small gains of $2.30 at $1,590.70 an ounce at the end, but were lower for most of the session along with silver and platinum group metals. COMEX March copper futures added 0.4 percent to settle at $3.5235 per lb. The healthier jobs data pulled the dollar up, which limited gains of many dollar-denominated commodities. But by the close, the U.S. currency slipped off the seven-month high it achieved earlier against a basket of currencies, helped by a narrower U.S. current account deficit. U.S. wheat futures rose for a sixth straight session on robust demand from domestic livestock feeders and exporters, which booked their biggest weekly sales in two years last week. Corn prices climbed for the fifth time in six sessions, supported by concerns about tight old-crop supplies and a weaker U.S. dollar, which makes the grain more competitive on the world market. But, Soybeans fell for a third straight session on South American harvest pressure and concerns about slowing import demand from top buyer China. Prices at 4:59 p.m. EST (2059 GMT) LAST/ NET PCT YTD CLOSE CHG CHG CHG US crude 93.22 0.70 0.8% 1.5% Brent crude 109.47 0.95 0.9% -1.5% Natural gas 3.812 0.132 3.6% 13.8% US gold 1590.70 2.30 0.1% -5.1% Gold 1589.88 2.59 0.2% -5.0% US Copper 352.35 1.40 0.4% -3.5% LME Copper 7800.00 12.50 0.2% -1.7% Dollar 82.591 -0.308 -0.4% 7.6% US corn 732.75 -8.50 -1.2% 4.9% US soybeans 1457.25 -17.75 -1.2% 2.7% US wheat 714.25 7.00 1.0% -8.2% US Coffee 139.65 -0.95 -0.7% -2.9% US Cocoa 2130.00 -17.00 -0.8% -4.7% US Sugar 18.84 0.04 0.2% -3.4% US silver 28.807 -0.151 -0.5% -4.7% US platinum 1589.80 -3.30 -0.2% 3.3% US palladium 770.75 -0.50 -0.1% 9.6%
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