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Oil drops under US$92 to 27-month low as supply glut grows

[LONDON] Oil fell by more than US$2 a barrel on Thursday to its lowest since June 2012, with benchmark Brent dropping under $92 a barrel, as price cuts from top producer Saudi Arabia added to supply glut worries and weak global economic data.

Oil declined alongside European stocks as the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged on Thursday, as expected. Investors were waiting to see the extent of an asset purchase plan, which bank chief Mario Draghi is due to discuss at a news conference due at 1230 GMT, which could inject confidence into the eurozone economy.

Sharp cuts in official selling prices from state producer Saudi Aramco to Asian customers on Wednesday came as the clearest sign yet that the world's largest exporter is trying to compete for crude market share, amplified supply concerns.

"This is a structural change in the oil market, with Saudi Arabia explicitly stating that they are willing to compete on price," said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB in Oslo. "I think Brent will fall below US$88 before we see the bottom of the market." Brent oil for November delivery was down US$1.76 at US$92.40 a barrel by 1156 GMT. It earlier hit US$91.55, its lowest since June 2012.

US November crude lost US$1.47 to reach US$89.26 per barrel, a near 18-month low.

Carsten Fritsch at Commerzbank said Saudi Arabia's price differentials are now near the lowest since December 2008, in the midst of the 2008/2009 economic crisis. "OPEC appears to be gearing up for a price war. We therefore do not expect prices to stabilise until this impression disappears and OPEC returns to coordinated production cuts," Mr Fritsch said.

While Saudi price cuts triggered Thursday's plunge, oil prices have been falling for months under the combined pressure of a revival in Libyan oil production, strength in the US dollar and dismal economic data in Asia and Europe.

"Whatever period we look at, whether it be this month, quarter or year, the oil market has been hugely disappointing," PVM's David Hufton said in an analyst note, adding that the"ever-increasing global supply" was the root cause.

Some analysts said a cut in production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at its meeting next month was the only move that could enable a price recovery.

While some expected OPEC to adjust the group's output target of 30 million barrels per day (bpd) for 2015, any cut may still not be big enough to spur a bounce in oil prices.

SEB's Mr Schieldrop said OPEC would need to cut around 1-1.5 million barrels a day in production in order to balance the markets in 2015.

Oil production in Russia increased by almost 0.9 per cent month-on-month in September to 10.61 million barrels per day (bpd), Energy Ministry data showed.

Data on Wednesday showed disappointing European factory data, and China's manufacturing sector in September remained subdued. US economic strength, a rare bright spot for global markets, showed signs of caution following worries of an Ebola outbreak. - Reuters