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Oil Stays Heavy After China Data Spooks Traders

Oil prices fell on Monday, pressured by disappointing data from world No. 2 oil consumer China.

China's National Bureau of Statistics said on Saturday that the consumer price index rose 3.2 percent in February from a year earlier, versus expectations of a 3.0 percent rise, while annual industrial production growth in January and February, combined at 9.9 percent, was the lowest since October 2012.

Also applying pressure on dollar-denominated oil and industrial-feedstock copper was the dollar's strength after Friday's better-than-expected U.S. jobs report as well as ratings agency Fitch's downgrade of Italy's credit rating.

In addition, Saudi Arabia produced more crude oil in February than it did the previous month, even while lowering the amount supplied to customers, an industry source said on Saturday, with the news of more production also helping pressure crude futures on Monday.

"The crude oil market tipped back to the downside ... as China's industrial output fell short of expectations and Saudi Arabia was reportedly producing more in February than the month before," Tim Evans, energy futures specialist at Citi Futures and OTC Clearing in New York, said in an email to clients.

Brent crude was down 86 cents at $109.99 a barrel, having fallen as low as $109.53 during the session.

Support may form above the front-month Brent 200-day moving average of $109.26.

U.S. crude pared most of the day's losses, trading down four cents at $91.91 a barrel in late dealings after having fallen under $91. It found support just above the 100-day moving average for front-month crude of $90.83.

U.S. heating oil futures dipped less than a penny, while U.S. gasoline futures retreated more than 3 cents after pushing higher early in Monday's session.

U.S. gasoline futures surged 8 cents on Friday, rallying to a 2013 peak because high-priced ethanol credits, or RINs, are raising refiners' costs and making imports too costly.

Helping limit losses were the political conflicts in the Middle East. Syrian rebels broke through government lines to ease a siege of their positions in the strategic central city of Homs despite coming under fierce aerial bombardment, opposition campaigners said.

Syrian oil production is not considered significant, but investors worry the unrest could spread to major oil exporters in the region.

The ongoing geopolitical tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program have also supported crude oil futures, helping to keep Brent futures above $100 through most of 2012 and this year.

Market participants awaited monthly oil market reports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday and the International Energy Agency on Wednesday.