Oil Falls To Lowest Close Since March, Down A Fourth Week


NEW YORK, July 24 (Reuters) - Brent and U.S. crude futures settled on Friday at their lowest since March and posted their fourth straight weekly decline as weak economic data from China and a rise in U.S. oil drilling rigs applied pressure.

U.S. energy firms added 21 oil rigs this week after pulling seven rigs last week, oil services company Baker Hughes Inc said.

The rig count data arrived a day after U.S. crude fell into bear market territory, as a drop of 21 percent from its June 10 close at $61.43 a barrel indicated the market's prevailing negative sentiment.

China's factory sector contracted in July by the most in 15 months, a preliminary private survey showed. The weaker-than-expected result followed a stock market slide that began in June.

Brent September crude fell 65 cents to settle at $54.62 a barrel, the lowest close since March 19 and off 4.3 percent for the week. The $54.30 session low was the lowest front-month price since April 2.

U.S. September crude fell 31 cents to end at $48.14, its lowest settlement since March 31 and down 5.5 percent for the week. The session low of $47.72 was the lowest intraday price since April 1.

"Crude was already lower on concerns about the global economy and the rig count added to the negativity," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.


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