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Oil approaches key US$40 level in Asian trade

Oil prices fell again on Thursday as supplies rose both in North America and the Middle East, with US contracts hovering slightly above US$40 per barrel, levels not seen since the credit crunch of 2009, and globally traded Brent falling below US$47.

[SINGAPORE] Oil prices slid to a fresh six and a half year low in Asia on Thursday, approaching the key US$40 a barrel level after a surprise rise in US inventories added to concerns of a supply glut.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in September, which expires on Thursday, dipped 32 cents to US$40.48 after falling sharply in New York to its lowest level since March 2009.

Brent crude for October dropped 25 cents to US$46.91 a barrel.

"US stockpiles unexpectedly expanded when the market was looking at a contraction, which heightened the global oversupply concerns," said Bernard Aw, a market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore.

"This added pressure to crude prices, and we see WTI drop below US$41, heading towards the key US$40 level. We could see more downsides, given that the current conditions remain unfavourable to oil."

The US Department of Energy on Wednesday said oil stockpiles rose 2.6 million barrels in the week ending August 14, and reported a 300,000 barrel rise at the closely watched Cushing, Oklahoma trading hub.

The surprise jump in inventories at a time when they normally fall added to concerns of a global surplus, particularly as signs emerge that demand is faltering in top energy importer China.

Analysts predict oil could now reach levels not seen since the throes of the financial crisis, pressured by a strong dollar and the anticipated return of Iranian oil to world markets.

But Daniel Ang, an investment analyst with Phillip Futures in Singapore, said he expects WTI to be supported at US$40 a barrel in Thursday's trading session.

"Technically, we are still seeing a very bearish momentum, however for prices to break below US$40 is going to be an arduous task," he said.

"We see US$40 for WTI to be a strong psychological support. Thus, we would unlikely think that this would break during Asian hours (Thursday)."