Crude falls on Chinese trade figures, U.S. supply data

Oil prices looked away from the standoff in Ukraine on Thursday and fell on soft Chinese trade numbers and a weak U.S. supply report.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in May traded at $103.40 a barrel during U.S. trading, down 0.19%. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $103.12 a barrel and a high of $103.80 a barrel.

The May contract settled up 1.01% at $103.60 a barrel on Wednesday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $99.95 a barrel, Monday's low, and resistance at $105.22 a barrel, the high from March 3.

Crude oil prices took a hit after official data showed that China’s crude oil imports fell to a five-month low in March, dropping to 5.55 million barrels a day, while oil-product imports fell to 540,000 barrels a day.

China’s overall exports unexpectedly fell for the second month in March, while imports dropped sharply, adding to concerns over a slowdown in the world’s second-largest oil consumer.

In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report on Wednesday that crude oil inventories rose by 4.03 million barrels in the week ended April 4, surpassing expectations for a build of 1.3 million barrels.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 384.1 million barrels as of last week.

The report came one day after the American Petroleum Institute said U.S. oil inventories rose by 7.1 million barrels last week, well above expectations for an increase of 2.5 million barrels.

The data pushed oil prices lower on demand concerns, ending two days of gains fueled by fears tensions in Ukraine could affect Russian oil shipments.

Investors were also tracking developments in Libya after government officials and rebels reached an agreement over the weekend to re-open the Zueitina and Hariga ports, which normally export a combined total of 200,000 barrels a day, mostly to Europe.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for May delivery were down 0.44%, trading at US$107.51 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$4.11 a barrel.