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Oil falls as trade row fears outweigh drop in US crude stocks

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Oil prices dropped 1 per cent on Thursday amid concerns over the escalating trade battle between the United States and China, despite a surprise fall in US crude stockpiles.

[TOKYO] Oil prices dropped 1 per cent on Thursday amid concerns over the escalating trade battle between the United States and China, despite a surprise fall in US crude stockpiles.

Brent crude oil futures were at US$69.72 a barrel by 0251 GMT, down 65 US cents, or 0.9 per cent, from their previous settlement. They earlier fell more than 1 per cent.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at US$61.52 per barrel, down 60 cents, or 1 per cent, having also fallen more than 1 per cent earlier.

"The inventory numbers from the US only gave oil a transitory boost. It is going to be all about whether the trade talks today can stop Friday's tariff-geddon," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda in Singapore.

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The Sino-US trade war has weighed on oil prices this week as heightened tensions between the world's two biggest economies cloud the global economic outlook.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that China "broke the deal" in trade talks with Washington and would face stiff tariffs if no agreement is reached.

Higher tariffs are set to take effect on Friday, during Chinese Vice Premier Liu He's two-day visit to Washington from Thursday.

"Enough progress made to make Mr Trump roll back his threats could see oil make back all of its recent loses in double quick time," said Mr Halley. "A poor outcome will see the rot move deeper and oil's recent fall continuing," he added.

Oil prices have had some support from signs of tighter global supply on the back of production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies, including Russia.

Both the Brent and WTI benchmarks have risen more than 30 per cent so far this year.

Global supply has also been tightened by US sanctions on Opec members Venezuela and Iran.

"From a fundamental point of view, Opec supply discipline is still in check, and US supplies show tighter markets than expected while Asia demand is still robust," said Stephen Innes head of trading at SPI Asset Management.

"All of which suggests once the trade war-induced sell-offs abate conditions could settle themselves quickly," Mr Innes said.

In a sign that Asia demand remains firm, China's crude imports in April hit a record for the month, at 10.6 million barrels per day (bpd), customs data showed on Wednesday. China is the world's biggest oil importer.

An unexpected drop in US crude inventories kept oil price declines in check. US crude inventories fell by 4 million barrels in the week to May 3, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

REUTERS