Oil prices ended mixed in choppy trading on Thursday as weaker-than-expected Chinese trade data, higher OPEC production and evidence of a strengthening U.S. jobs market muddied the oil demand outlook.
China, the world's second largest oil consumer after the United States, reported that its exports and imports in April grow at a far slower rate than forecast.
Its trade performance that month was also surprisingly weak, and analysts said the government would need to loosen monetary policy to spur expansion or risk missing annual growth targets.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said it pumped 1.62 million barrels more per day, to 31.62 million bpd last month, as Iraq ramped up output and Libya's oil industry recovered. That's above the 30 million bpd target it had set in December.
New U.S. claims for jobless benefits edged down last week, against forecasts for an increase, somewhat calming fears that the labor market was stagnating after surprisingly week employment growth in April. [ID:nL1E8GA1I4}
The U.S. stock market rebounded after a string of losses, prodding some investors to increase bets on commodities such as oil and copper, though the weak Chinese data and strong OPEC production kept U.S. crude's gains limited.
Some worries about the euro zone debt crisis eased, which helped U.S. crude push higher and limited Brent's slide. The European Financial Stability Facility late Wednesday agreed to release a scheduled bailout payment to Greece, which avoided a funding crisis for the debt-laden country.
Anxiety about the Greek situation eased after euro zone officials said the region was prepared to keep financing the country until it forms a new government, even if new elections must be held.
"Basically, the oil markets are watching Europe and looking for what will happen next, which is not easy to predict," said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures in Bend, Oregon.
"Crude was ambivalent today, though it got some support from equities, but traders are waiting for the Seaway pipeline reversal and that is expected push up U.S. crude," he added.
Crude futures have been on a downtrend after hitting highs for the year in early March -- $128.40 for Brent and $110.55 for U.S. crude. Investors have been weighing worries about potential Iran supply disruptions against rising stockpiles and weaker economies in developed countries that have cut into oil demand.
In London, ICE Brent crude for June settled down 47 cents at $112.73 a barrel, falling back after a rebound on Wednesday which had ended five straight days of losses.