Oil sags on inventory build, soft data

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Crude oil futures fell on W ednesday, pressured by a sixth straight weekly build in U.S. crude inventories and weak economic data from the United States and Europe that dimmed the outlook for oil demand.

The decline reversed the previous session's gains, as the larger-than-expected crude stock build added to pressure from earlier data showing U.S. private employers hired fewer workers than expected in April, and that the euro zone's manufacturing sector declined further. Also stoking negative sentiment, new orders for U.S. factory goods posted their biggest decline in three years, though the latest data was slightly higher than expected.

Fears of further price turmoil in the oil markets followed the recent take-down of a hefty geopolitical premium after Iran agreed to return to the negotiating table with six world powers over its disputed nuclear program. U.S. crude oil stocks rose 2.84 million barrels last week to 375.86 million barrels, slightly more than forecast. Stocks have ballooned more than 29 million barrels since late March, the biggest six-week increase since February 2009, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed.

Crude stored at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point for U.S.-traded crude futures soared to a record 42.96 million barrels after adding 1.2 million barrels last week.

In refined products, gasoline stocks slid more than expected by 2 million barrels to 209.7 million, the 11th week in a row of declines. In that period, gasoline stocks have fallen 22.5 million barrels or nearly 10 percent. "The report doesn't seem to be supportive of a further rally," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

In London, ICE June Brent crude settled down $1.46 at $118.20 a barrel. The contract is well below the year's high of $128.40 reached on March 1. U.S. crude for June delivery settled at $105.22, the 50-day average, after dropping to session low of $104.91. U.S. crude has fallen from this year's high of $110.55, also hit on March 1. "At current levels, U.S. crude is moving at the middle of the recent trading range, with resistance lying above $106 to $109, said Rich Alexander, senior broker at the Zaner Group in Chicago.

The day's selling pushed Brent crude's total trading volume about 13 percent from its 30-day average, according to Reuters data. U.S. crude volume was up 8 percent above its 30-day average.

As Brent crude fell harder than U.S. crude, its premium against U.S. crude narrowed to $12.98 at the close, from $13.50 on Tuesday. The Brent/WTI spread slipped to $12.65 at one point, the narrowest since Feb. 1.

CHINA, IRAN FACTORS
Concerns about the demand outlook for China, the No. 2 oil consumer behind the United States, also pressured prices. Data showed that Chinese bank lending dropped 30 percent in April, from March, as credit demand declined, the official China Securities Journal reported on Wednesday. Worries about supply disruption from Iran has eased in the wake of conciliatory words from Iran and Jerusalem, a factor in the recent drop in oil prices.

On Wednesday, Iran said it would seek an end to sanctions over its nuclear activities at talks with world powers on May 23 in Baghdad. However, the U.S. and its allies have made clear that Tehran must take action to allay fears about its nuclear ambitions before they can relax the sanctions.

JOBS FRONT
Hiring in the U.S. private sector slowed as the ADP National Employment Report showed 119,000 were added in April, below expectations for a 177,000 gain, stoking concerns that the economy had lost steam.

More data from the labor market are awaited, with weekly initial jobless claims and layoffs in April due on Thursday. With the blockbuster nonfarm payrolls and unemployment data due on Friday, oil investors are turning cautious.

A Reuters poll showed that non-farm payrolls likely rose 170,000 last month, after a meager 120,000 addition in March. The unemployment rate was forecast to hold at a three-year low of 8.2 percent.



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