The price of oil edged slightly lower from a five-week high Thursday after China reported weak monthly trade data and U.S. crude supplies rose substantially last week.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for May delivery was down 24 cents to $103.36 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the Nymex contract gained $1.04 to settle at $103.60 amid unrest in eastern Ukraine after adding more than $2 the day before. The last time it closed above $103 was on March 4.
Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil prices, was down 60 cents to $107.38 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Oil prices fell as Chinese trade numbers showed that exports contracted unexpectedly in March, shrinking by 6.6 per cent from a year earlier while imports contracted 11.3 per cent. Chinese imports of crude oil were also the lowest in five months, totalling 5.54 million barrels in March.
The numbers highlight the gradual slowdown in China’s economic growth, which could result in lower demand for energy. The country’s leaders are struggling to hit a full-year target of 7.5 per cent growth this year while reorienting the world’s second biggest economy away from trade and investment to one based on domestic spending.
Crude prices also slipped following the report by the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration that showed 4 million barrels were added to supplies last week. That compares to a rise of 2.5 million barrels predicted by analysts surveyed by Platt’s, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
Snags in the announced reopening of four export terminal in Libya — a key supplier of high-quality crude to European refineries — are helping to keep a floor under prices, as a definite agreement between the central government and militias who had occupied the installations remains elusive.
“A resolution to the eight-month port blockade in the east of Libya has become somewhat less likely again,” analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt said in a report.
In other energy futures trading in New York:
— Wholesale gasoline lost 1.84 cents to $2.99 a gallon.
— Natural gas fell 2.9 cents to $4.557 per 1,000 cubic feet.
— Heating oil was down 0.89 cent at $2.9451 a gallon.
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