Brent Oil Prices Lower On Weak US, China Data

Brent oil prices dropped on Tuesday, in line with global equity markets, after publication of worse-than-expected jobs data in top crude consumer the United States before the weekend.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May shed 89 cents to $121.78 a barrel in London midday trade. London was closed on Friday and Monday owing to the Easter break but electronic deals continued in New York.

New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for May, fell 53 cents to $101.93. On Monday, it hit an intra-day low of $100.81, the lowest point since mid-February.

“Crude oil prices are tracking the broader trend today, heading lower as European markets return after the break to find the US economy looking a little less rosy than before,” said Sucden brokers analyst Jack Pollard.

The US Labor Department on Friday reported that the number of unemployed workers in the United States hovered close to 13 million as hiring slowed, highlighting the risks to economic recovery in the world’s biggest economy.

The American economy created only 120,000 jobs in March, well short of forecasts for upwards of 200,000 jobs.

Downbeat Chinese trade figures Tuesday also raised concerns about the world’s number two economy, dampening sentiment.

China said it recorded a trade surplus of $5.35 billion for March, reversing a trade deficit of $31.48 billion for February.

However, it also said exports rose a relatively weak 8.9 percent, while imports were up just 5.3 percent, suggesting domestic consumption in the country of 1.3 billion people is flagging.

Oil prices rose briefly in Asian deals earlier Tuesday on the back of worries about a possible disruption to Middle East supplies, analysts said.

“The concerns about geopolitical tension and supply disruptions in the Middle East remain, despite the underlying factors that pushed prices down in the past few days,” said analyst Justin Harper at IG Markets Singapore.

Major crude producer Iran on Monday confirmed it would hold talks with world powers in Istanbul on Saturday over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Iran last held talks with the so-called P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — in January 2011 but with no result.

The United States and other Western countries fear Iran is developing a nuclear weapon but Tehran insists that its atomic programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes.

Iran has threatened to shut the strategic Strait of Hormuz — the passageway for a fifth of the world’s oil supply — if the West imposes further sanctions on the Islamic republic.