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Oil crushed by demand, supply fears; WTI at lowest since January

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Oil tumbled by 2 percent on Thursday, as higher U.S. jobless claims and a German economic contraction highlighted weak demand, while supplies are ample despite conflicts in Iraq and Libya.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, figures showed on Thursday, while four-week average levels were also up.

Germany's economy shrank in the second quarter and France posted no growth, data showed, adding to jitters as the euro zone trades tit-for-tat sanctions with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

Brent crude for delivery in September was down more than $2 to near $102. The contract was pinned at its weakest since July 2013. while U.S. crude for September delivery ended down $2.01 at $95.58 a barrel—its lowest since January 21.

Traders cited heavy selling in the U.S. Oil exchange-traded fund (USO) as driving West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices lower. Earlier in the day, USO saw almost 1 million shares traded in just one minute, more than a third of the average 60-day daily volume. Crude's failure to hold above $96 triggered heavy selling, they added.

Despite fighting by rival armed factions in Libya, exports are resuming at top ports Ras Lanuf and Es Sider which have been blocked for a year by protests.

U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.4 million barrels last week, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Wednesday, against analysts' expectations for a 2 million-barrel drop.

Crude output by the world's top oil consumer is also expected to rise, the EIA said, as it raised its estimate for 2014 U.S. output to 8.5 million barrels per day (bpd) and to 9.3 million bpd for next year, which would be the highest annual average production level since 1972.

--By Reuters

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