- U.S. oil futures were lower on Thursday, albeit off the worse levels of the session, following the release of stronger-than-expected data on U.S. retail sales and initial jobless claims.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April dropped to a session low of $97.68 a barrel, before recovering to last trade at $97.94 during U.S. morning hours, down 0.05%, or $0.05 cents.

The April contract slumped to $97.55 a barrel on Wednesday, the lowest since February 7, before trimming losses to settle at $97.99 a barrel, down 2.04%, or $2.04.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $97.14 a barrel, the low from February 7 and resistance at $99.60 a barrel, the high from March 12.

Oil pared losses after the U.S. Commerce Department said earlier that retail sales rose by 0.3% last month, beating expectations for a 0.2% increase.

Core retail sales, which exclude automobile sales, increased by 0.3% in February, compared to forecasts for a 0.2% increase.

Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government''s gross domestic product report. Consumer spending accounts for as much as 70% of U.S. economic growth.

A separate report showed that the number of people who filed for unemployment assistance in the U.S. last week fell unexpectedly to hit a 14-week low of 315,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 324,000.

Analysts had expected jobless claims to rise by 6,000 to 330,000 last week.

The better than expected data eased concerns over soft U.S. economic data seen in the past few months and underlined the view that the Federal Reserve is likely to continue to gradually taper its bond-buying program.

Prices were down earlier in the session after disappointing Chinese economic data underlined concerns over the health of the world’s second largest economy.

Data released overnight showed that industrial production in China rose by an annualized rate of 8.6% in the first two months of 2014, the weakest since March 2009 and below expectations for a 9.5% increase.

A separate report showed that Chinese retail sales rose by a smaller-than-forecast 11.8% in the same period, the slowest pace for the first two months since 2004.

Oil has been under heavy selling pressure in recent sessions as growing concerns over the health of China’s economy dampened demand for growth-linked assets.

The Asian nation is the world''s second largest oil consumer after the U.S. and has been the engine of strengthening demand.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for April delivery declined 0.11%, or $0.12 cents, to trade at $107.90 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at $9.96 a barrel.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger