Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Most energy, metals and agricultural futures closed higher Thursday as investors' growing confidence about the economy made them more willing to buy riskier assets including commodities.

Gold and copper futures were among the few commodities that fell.

The day's economic news was promising. The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, the second straight weekly decline. The department said claims dipped to 448,000, slightly above analysts' forecast of 445,000, according to Thomson Reuters. That lifted hopes that layoffs are slowing.

Meanwhile, it appeared that the crisis over Greece's ability to pay its debt was easing. European and German officials said they were working quickly on approving a bailout for the country. European Union monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said he was "confident the talks will be concluded in the next days."

Investors shied away from risky assets including commodities earlier in the week amid fears that Greece might default on debt coming due next month. A default would threaten the euro, the currency shared by 16 European nations, and put the continent's economic recovery in jeopardy. It could also set back the recovery in the U.S.

But investors were betting on a Greek bailout, and that the global recovery and demand for commodities would continue to grow. That lifted oil prices above $85 a barrel.

Light sweet crude oil for June delivery rose $1.95 to settle at $85.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Natural gas prices fell 8 percent after the government said supplies expanded more than expected. Natural gas fell 36.8 cents to settle at $3.980 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Kevin Davitt, senior market analyst and trader at LaSalle Futures Group in Chicago, said "What we're seeing is risk appetite kind of come back over the past two days. I think the metals and energy are the beneficiaries of that."

Silver, platinum and palladium advanced. Silver for July deliver rose $4.44 to settle at $18.579 an ounce. Platinum for July delivery rose $20.10 to settle at $1,733.70 an ounce. Palladium for June delivery rose $7.10 to settle at $549 an ounce. All three metals trade on Nymex.

Platinum and palladium are used in catalytic converters in cars. Auto sales have been picking up, and would be expected to continue their recovery as the economy grows.

Gold fell as Greece's debt situation looked less dire. The metal lost some of its appeal as a safer investment -- investors often turn to it during times of economic or political uncertainty.

Gold for June delivery fell $3 to settle at $1,168.80 an ounce on the Nymex.

Copper for July delivery fell 3.6 cents to settle at $3.3505 a pound.

Commodities also got a lift from a drop in the dollar, which, like gold, is seen as a safe place to invest in. The ICE Futures US dollar index, which measures the dollar against six other currencies, fell 0.47 percent.

The weaker dollar makes commodities a better deal for foreign investors since most commodities are priced in dollars.

Corn benefited from a recent purchase by China. Corn for July delivery rose 5 cents to settle at $3.69 a bushel.

Countries such as Iraq, Algeria and Jordan, which are big importers of wheat, have helped to support its price. July wheat rose 7.5 cents to settle at $4.9550 a bushel.

Soybeans for July delivery rose to 2.5 cents to settle at $9.96 a bushel. Soybeans are used in milk, oils and tofu.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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