Brent futures fell more than $1 towards $101 a barrel on Monday, staying close to a nine-month low hit earlier in the day, after bleak Chinese and US data stoked worries of a slowdown in economic growth in the world’s top oil consumers.
China’s economic recovery unexpectedly stumbled in the first three months of 2013, with the annual rate of growth easing to 7.7 per cent from 7.9 per cent in the final quarter of last year. Economists had forecast 8 per cent growth.
Prices fell across assets from commodity markets — including oil, gold and copper — to Asian shares following the release of the weaker-than-expected China data.
“The China data is going to have a major impact on an already weak commodity market,” said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive of commodity research firm BarrattBulletin.
“Generally the trend for commodities remains weak at the moment given that China is not performing the way we’ve always wanted it to perform, which suggests (prices are) coming under pressure.”
Brent crude futures fell $1.71 to $101.40 a barrel by 0652 GMT, after earlier shedding $2.27 to hit $100.84 a barrel — the lowest since early July 2012.
US crude futures also lost more than $2 to hit its lowest in over three months at $88.46 before recovering to $89.15 by 0652 GMT.
The China data followed a Friday report showing US retail sales contracted in March for the second time in three months, a sign the top oil-consuming economy may have stumbled at the end of the first quarter.
“I think oil needs to still find a bottom. I’m always leaning to the bullish side, but the US economic data hasn’t been great lately and China faltering is unsettling,” said Carl Larry, president of the Houston-based Oil Outlooks and Opinion.
“There’s much more competition out there to sell a barrel of oil. Outside of Opec, you have their neighbour Russia who’s pushing its barrels too.”
Also pushing down oil prices, China’s implied oil demand fell to its lowest in seven months in March as big consumers held off from buying in anticipation of a cut in prices, while refiners scaled back crude runs and raised exports to trim high fuel stocks.
Weak data weighs
Friday’s weak US retail sales data followed forecasts for lower global oil demand growth for 2013 released last week by the International Energy Agency, the US Energy Information Administration and the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The World Bank on Monday scaled back its 2013 growth forecasts for developing East Asia and warned about possible over-heating in the region’s larger economies that could stoke inflation and asset bubbles, exacerbating investor concerns over oil demand.
The global lender, in its latest East Asia and Pacific Update, cut its GDP growth projection for China by 0.1 percentage point to 8.3 percent for 2013, citing Beijing’s ongoing efforts to restructure its economy. “I think that (Brent) oil has had its first test here at $100. We get under $98 and then people start to get worried about investing in oil and start thinking about a global double dip recession,” Larry said.
“Of course if there is no recession, people are going to be looking at the much better returns in US equities.”