Oil futures: Crude falls on debt worries, weak China imports

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Oil futures declined Monday, weighed by worries of debt contagion spreading in Europe and signs of weak crude demand in the U.S. and China.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery fell $1.14, or 1.2%, to $95.06 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on ICE Futures Europe gave up $2.23, or 1.9%, to $116.10 a barrel.

Senior euro-zone officials prepared to meet Monday to discuss another round of aid for Greece. They are aiming forestall a spread of the region's debt crisis to Italy. Worries over the spreading crisis sent the euro falling Monday to its lowest level against the dollar since June 16.

Commodities fell across the board on the contagion fears. Gold futures, widely viewed as a safe-haven, shot to their highest level since June 22.

"The euro-zone debt situation hasn't really improved since Greece passed the austerity plan," said James Zhang, commodity strategist at Standard Bank in London. "If you look across all three regions -- the U.S., the euro-zone and China -- there's more bearish sentiment."

Economic headlines out of the three regions have largely been dictating crude prices in recent months in the absence of new developments out of the Middle East and North Africa. Unrest in that region sent crude prices soaring earlier this year, though bleak economic headlines out of the developed world have kept Nymex prices below the $100 mark recently.

The ICE Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted currencies, recently rose 1.1% to 75.884. A stronger dollar often pressures oil and other commodities by making them more expensive for holders of other currencies.

Oil futures were also pressured by data from China showing June oil imports fell to their lowest level in eight months. Imports fell 5.7% from the previous month to 4.81 million barrels a day.

"The news ... adds to worries that momentum in the world's second-largest economy is markedly slowing down," said analysts at JBC Energy, a Vienna consultancy, in a research report.

Meanwhile, the brisk pace of inflation there is feeding concerns that China could again move to slow its economy by raising interest rates. The Chinese government said the country's Consumer Price Index rose 6.4% in June, the biggest monthly rise since June 2008.

The prospect of additional monetary tightening in China, the world's largest crude consumer behind the U.S., tends to weigh on oil prices because such measures could slow economic growth and dampen crude demand.

Oil prices have been in retreat since Friday, when the U.S. Labor Department said the country added vastly fewer jobs than expected in June. Nonfarm payrolls rose 18,000 in June, well below the 125,000 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

Front-month August reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, fell 4.04 cents, or 1.3%, to $3.0522 a gallon. August heating oil declined 4.3 cents, or 1.4%, to $3.0534 a gallon.



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