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Oil drops to lowest since Aramco attacks after Trump scolds China

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Oil prices plunged more than 2 per cent on Tuesday to their lowest since the Sept 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia's key oil facilities, after US President Donald Trump rekindled fears the US-China trade conflict that has crimped energy demand is far from over.

[HOUSTON] Oil prices plunged more than 2 per cent on Tuesday to their lowest since the Sept 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia's key oil facilities, after US President Donald Trump rekindled fears the US-China trade conflict that has crimped energy demand is far from over.

In a United Nations address, Mr Trump accused China of unfair trade practices, including "massive" market barriers, currency manipulation and intellectual property theft, a few days after officials from the world's two largest oil-consuming economies held inconclusive trade talks in Washington.

"Hopefully we can reach an agreement that will be beneficial for both countries," Mr Trump said. "As I have made very clear, I will not accept a bad deal."

Brent crude futures, the international standard, settled US$1.67, or 2.6 per cent, lower at US$63.10 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate futures ended at US$57.29 a barrel, down US$1.35, or 2.3 per cent.

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Mr Trump "ratcheted up the US-China trade war again," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. "It wasn't a constructive tone in trying to get that resolved, and we know how sensitive oil prices are to the back and forth."

The US president's address left the oil market with the grim impression that "it's not a deal that's going to get done quickly," which could continue to hamper global oil demand growth, said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

US stocks fell, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq poised for the biggest declines in a month, as calls for impeachment of Mr Trump gained momentum, while weak consumer confidence data added to worries over the prolonged Sino-US trade war.

A private sector report showed US consumer confidence fell by the most in nine months in September.

Sluggish economic data in leading European economies and Japan also weighed on crude prices, analysts said.

"We continue to see a constant revision downward for 2019 oil demand," with many forecasters predicting demand to grow around 1 million bpd or less, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

"Given continued US production growth and new production in Norway and Brazil, the market feels oversupplied, even though Saudi oil production has been impacted over the past 10 days," Mr Lipow said.

Prices extended their losses in after-hours trading as industry data showed an unexpected build in US crude stockpiles.

US crude inventories rose 1.4 million barrels last week, the American Petroleum Institute said, compared to analysts' forecasts of a 200,000-barrel drawdown. The government will release its weekly inventory report on Wednesday.

Some analysts expect US crude stocks to remain low after a Tropical Storm Imelda disrupted energy operations on the Gulf Coast last week.

They also expect US crude exports to increase over coming weeks after the attack on Saudi Arabia's largest oil-processing facility that halved output in the world's top oil exporter.

State oil company Saudi Aramco is buying oil originating in neighbouring countries to meet its supply obligations to foreign refineries, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Its trading arm is arranging for crude from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to cover its commitments to certain buyers, the sources said.

European powers - Britain, Germany and France - backed the United States in blaming Iran for the Saudi attack, urging Tehran to agree to new talks with world powers on its nuclear and missile programmes and regional security.

At the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump denounced Iran, but said there is a path to peace, which somewhat eased the oil market's worries about geopolitical risks, analysts said.

"So far, it doesn't look like there will be a military response," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

REUTERS