GO
Loading...

UPDATE 1-Brent hits 2-wk low at $106, China data stokes demand worries

Manash Goswami
Monday, 3 Feb 2014 | 2:12 AM ET

* China's Jan official PMI slips to six-month low

* Dollar index near a two-month high on healthy US data

* Iraqi army bombards Falluja in preparation for ground assault

* Syrian forces kill 83 in barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo -activists

(Adds comments, updates prices)

SINGAPORE, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Brent crude dropped to a two-week low on Monday at $106 a barrel as weak factory data from China stoked demand growth worries, but fresh violence in Iraq and Syria checked losses.

China's factory growth eased to an expected six-month low in January, hurt by weaker local and foreign demand as well as heightening worries of a wide slowdown across emerging markets. That weighed across most markets such as Asian shares and base metals as investors found a new reason to sell high-risk assets.

Brent crude slipped 8 cents to $106.32 a barrel by 0710 GMT, after declining the most in a month on Friday. It earlier touched $106, its lowest since Jan. 20. U.S. oil dropped 38 cents to $97.11, after settling 74 cents lower.

"Brent is suffering from the emerging market turmoil that is spreading across most markets," said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax Investment.

"But specific to Brent are supply disruption fears from Syria, Iraq and others. That is helping support prices."

Oil also weakened after breaking past a few key technical support levels in the previous session, Emori said.

Both the contracts are poised to fall further in February as prices usually weaken during the month, Emori said. Brent may slip to as low as $103 a barrel and the U.S. benchmark to $92 during the month, he said.

"We could see prices touching the bottom for the year in February," Emori said. "February will be an important month to start buying for the year."

Emerging market stocks and currencies have been sold off in the past weeks as investors cut financial bets in developing nations, in anticipation that the United States will continue to move to less easy monetary policy.

The slowdown in emerging nations may cap gains in oil demand growth, which has been driven primarily by China over the past decade as consumption in the West, often called the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations, slowed, Barclays said in a note.

While the West is improving, it may not help overshadow the slowdown in emerging nations, Barclays added.

DOWNSIDE RISK

"The potential upside risk to OECD demand growth is unlikely to be enough to offset more than a very mild non-OECD underperformance," the report said. "Therefore, recent events do suggest some downside risk to global oil demand overall."

A strong dollar is also keeping a lid on oil prices by making it expensive for holders of other currencies.

The dollar index held near a two-month high set late last month following robust U.S. economic data.

But geopolitical tensions and the possible impact on oil supplies are expected to keep a floor under prices.

Investors are watching the unfolding unrest in Iraq, where the army intensified its shelling of Falluja in preparation for a ground assault to regain control of the city, which has been under the control of militants for a month.

Crude exports from Iraq declined in January to an average of 2.23 million barrels per day (bpd) but should rise next month, Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said on Saturday.

Luaibi attributed the drop from 2.34 million bpd in December to attacks on the pipeline carrying oil from the northern Kirkuk oilfields to Turkey, as well as disruption to shipping from Iraq's southern ports due to bad weather.

In Syria, military helicopters dropped more improvised "barrel bombs" on the northern city of Aleppo, a monitoring group said, bringing the death toll to at least 83 people in the latest episode of a campaign that many consider a war crime.

Syria is not key in terms of oil shipments, but markets have been worried about the crisis in the country spilling across the Middle East and engulfing major exporters.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)