Oil extended losses for a second session on Thursday, with Brent slipping toward $115 a barrel after market rumours that a hedge fund was forced to liquidate substantial commodity positions led to the fuel's largest daily fall in 2013 the previous day.
Traders continued to liquidate long positions on Thursday as oil prices fell below support levels on technical charts, triggering more sell orders.
Bearish news of a potential rise in Saudi Arabia's oil output and a possible slowdown in the bond buying programme of the U.S. Federal Reserve also gave investors a chance to sell and tak profit from a Brent bull run that has lasted nearly three months, traders said.
Brent crude fell as low as $114.95 and was down 36 cents at $115.24 a barrel by 0311 GMT. The contract is trading at its lowest in more than two weeks after settling down almost $2 on Wednesday. U.S. crude futures for April slipped 57 cents to $94.65 after closing at their lowest in over a month.
"Long position holders have been looking to sell for profit-taking," said Yusuke Seta, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan. "I guess this is a good time to sell."
Hedge funds and other large speculators have nearly doubled their bets that oil prices will rise since mid-December, and have amassed positions in Brent and U.S. crude oil futures and options equivalent to around 440 million barrels of oil, regulatory and exchange data shows.
Oil "was on helium again and got ahead of fundamentals," said Tony Nunan, a risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp.
"But I think everyone is concerned because high frequency traders make the price moves more violent," he said, adding that Ichimoku cloud charts showed the next support level for Brent was at $114.31.
"Saudi was one of the catalysts, but the other is fear that the Fed might reduce QE (quantitative easing)," Nunan said.
Global equities also slipped on Wednesday after minutes from a Federal Reserve policy meeting last month showed some officials think the central bank might have to slow or stop buying bonds before seeing the pickup in hiring the programme is designed to deliver.
The world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, could raise its oil output in the second quarter to satisfy higher demand from China and feed economic recovery elsewhere, oil industry sources said.
Investors are also looking ahead to oil inventories data out of the United States later on Thursday and talks on Iran's nuclear programme next week for price direction.
U.S. crude stocks rose on higher imports while oil product inventories fell last week, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed.
Crude stockpiles rose 3 million barrels in the week to Feb. 15, the data showed, as imports rose 117,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 7.72 million bpd. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected crude stocks to rise 1.8 million barrels.
For Iran, major powers are ready to make "a substantial and serious offer" to Tehran during talks next week in return for concessions on its nuclear programme, a Western diplomat said.