Oil Ends 2% Lower As Traders Question Global Energy Demand

Oil prices dropped more than 2% Monday after a slide on Asian and European stock markets sparked concerns that oil demand could falter.

U.S. crude settled down $1.57 to $60.07 a barrel after trading as low as $59.55 earlier.

Heating oil and gasoline also fell while natural gas posted a small gain.

European and Asian shares closed lower Monday, adding to concerns initially triggered last week by a brief drop in China's stock market that the consumer nation's oil demand may be hit by global economic weakness.

"I think that the (oil) weakness that we are seeing is based on the fundamentals of risk with regard to the economy," said Stephen Schork, president of The Schork Report.

Global markets fell following a surge in the Japanese yen as investors unwound a carry trade that has driven many recent investments.

Low interest rates in Japan had encouraged many investors to borrow yen and use the money to invest in high-yielding currencies and assets elsewhere -- the carry trade.

But now investors are seeking less-risky bets because of rising rates in Japan and fears of a slowdown in the United States, the world's biggest energy consumer.

Tokyo's Nikkei average fell 3.34%, marking its biggest one-day fall in nine months and a new low for 2007.

U.S. stocks steadied on Monday, after starting trade notably weaker in step with sharp drops in Europe and Asia.

Selling across the commodities complex has also been driven in part by the need of funds to raise cash to pay for losses in other asset classes, analysts said.

Gold on Monday hit a six-week low and other metals also weakened.

"Everything really depends on the equities markets," said Olivier Jakob of oil research consultants Petromatrix.

Iran Support

Oil has drawn support from OPEC member Iran's standoff with the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program as well as a bullish longer-term supply and demand outlook.

In addition, falling gasoline stocks in the United States have helped keep prices high.

"Despite this equity mini-crash, if you look at the fundamentals in oil they are pretty solid," said analyst Frederic Lasserre at Societe Generale.

"Gasoline is good, stocks are falling, geopolitics is back ... that's why oil is staying resilient even when compared to base metals and even gold."

A Reuters poll of analysts forecast weekly U.S. government data to be released Wednesday would show a 2.1 million barrel build in crude stocks for the week ending March 3.

Distillate stocks were forecast to fall 2.3 million barrels and gasoline stocks by 1.7 million barrels as refinery runs fell 0.3 percentage point.

OPEC ministers have said prices are high enough for them and they do not anticipate changing output when the producer group meets in Vienna on March 15.

"If the price at the moment will continue, I think OPEC will do nothing for the time being, we'll roll over," said Qatar's oil minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah. "I think $60 is a good deal for everybody, for producers and consumers."