SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell by almost 1 percent on Monday, with Brent crude slipping below $60 per barrel, after Chinese data showed weakening imports and exports in the world’s biggest trading nation and second-largest crude oil consumer.
International Brent crude oil futures were at $59.91 per barrel at 0403 GMT, down 57 cents, or 0.9 percent from their last close.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 47 cents, or 0.9 percent, at $51.12 a barrel.
China’s December overall exports fell by 4.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years, official data showed on Monday, pointing to further weakening in the world’s second-largest economy. Imports last month also contracted, falling 7.6 percent, the biggest decline since July 2016.
The weak trade figures confirm a raft of indicators that have been pointing to an economic slowdown since the second half of 2018.
“Producer price inflation has decelerated for six consecutive months, adding to other signs of cooling industrial activity (in China) amid weakening global demand,” rating agency Moody’s said in a note.
Traders said the data pulled down crude oil futures and Asian stock markets alike, which had both posted modest gains earlier on Monday.
Despite the weak Chinese trade data, the country’s oil imports remained sky-high in December at 10.31 million barrels per day (bpd), holding above the 10 million bpd mark for the second month in a row, on stock building by small independent refiners who were trying to use up annual quotas.
Amid this strong demand from the world’s biggest oil importer, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-OPEC allies, including Russia, have been cutting supply since late 2018, providing crude prices with some support.
In the United States, drillers cut four oil rigs in the week to Jan. 11, bringing the total count down to 873, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in a weekly report on Friday.