Oil futures settled lower for the third straight session, weighed by concerns over weakening demand in China and robust global production.
Futures headed lower after data released Monday showed Chinese industrial output in April came in at 9.3% above last year's level--an improvement over a tepid March reading but under the 9.5% forecast by analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.
The report was the latest underscoring slowing economic growth in China, which in turn has left the oil market worried demand for crude-oil is slowing there, too. China is the world's fastest-growing large economy and the boom has fueled a rise in oil prices over the last several years.
"The Chinese data today started us off on the defensive," said Andy Lebow, senior vice president of energy futures at Jefferies Bache in New York. "We're going to really need some demand growth in the second half [of the year] to suck up the increased crude production."
Light, sweet crude for June delivery settled 87 cents, or 0.9%, lower at $95.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange recently settled $1.09, or 1%, lower at $102.82 a barrel.
Monday's fall is the latest decline in crude prices, as signs of strong supply in the U.S. and elsewhere keep a lid on gains. Year to date, crude futures have barely budged, up just 3.65% since the start of 2013.
On Monday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries raised its strongest concerns yet this year about weakening oil demand in China. It cut its estimate for Chinese oil demand growth in the first quarter by 20,000 barrels a day, saying weaker-than-expected economic growth in China "may dent oil demand consumption."
Research service Platts estimated OPEC raised crude output by 25,000 barrels a day to 30.5 million barrels a day in April. The increase marked the end of a recent trend of lower production. The service said output had fallen by nearly a million barrels a day between October and March.
Platts said the increase was driven by higher output from Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer, and Iraq, the No. 2 producer. The group's next meeting in Vienna scheduled for May 31
Meanwhile, many oil-market observers remained concerned about the effect of a wind-down of monetary stimulus measures at the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Fed officials had mapped out a strategy for winding down its $85 billion-a-month easing program.
An end to the measure would likely entail more support for the U.S. dollar, which typically weakens oil prices by making the commodity more expensive to global buyers.
The ICE Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, was recently up 0.1% at 83.340.
Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 3.93 cents, or 1.4%, lower at $2.8210 a gallon. June heating oil settled 1.52 cents, or 0.5%, lower at $2.8910 a gallon.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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