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Oil falls more than 3%; energy drags down stocks

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US crude futures fell 3.8 per cent to settle at US$50.44, while Brent crude futures dropped 3.6 per cent to US$52.93.

[NEW YORK] Oil prices dropped more than 3 per cent on Wednesday following a surprise increase in gasoline inventories, and declines in energy shares weighed on US stocks.

The dollar recovered from recent weakness against the euro and the safe-haven yen, while sterling was off six-month highs hit after Britain's prime minister on Tuesday called for a snap election.

Investors also braced for the coming French election. Four days before the first round of the presidential election in France, just a few points separate the top four candidates, including two who oppose the euro - the far-right's Marine Le Pen and the far-left's Jean-Luc Melenchon, according to opinion polls.

In the oil market, the counter-seasonal build of 1.5 million barrels in gasoline in the latest week, along with an increase in US production, pressured prices.

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US crude futures fell 3.8 per cent to settle at US$50.44, while Brent crude futures dropped 3.6 per cent to US$52.93.

The oil losses hurt shares of US energy companies, pushing the S&P 500 energy index down 1.4 per cent and causing the benchmark S&P 500 index to reverse earlier gains.

"Crude broke US$52 on WTI, that is the strongest correlation we have right now away from the case-by-case earnings we have," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

US first-quarter earnings so far have been mostly stronger than expected. On Wednesday, shares of Morgan Stanley rose 2 per cent following the bank's results, though International Business Machines dropped 4.9 per cent and pressured the Dow.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 118.79 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 20,404.49, the S&P 500 lost 4.02 points, or 0.17 per cent, to 2,338.17 and the Nasdaq Composite added 13.56 points, or 0.23 per cent, to 5,863.03.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index, which hit a three-week low on Tuesday, ended up 0.2 per cent.

In the US Treasury market, bond yields rose after a rally on Tuesday sent yields to five-month lows prompted by concerns about the French election and rising geopolitical tensions.

Benchmark 10-year notes dropped 8/32 in price to yield 2.21 per cent. The 10-year yield fell as low as 2.165 per cent on Tuesday; it has tumbled from a high of 2.63 per cent reached on March 14.

Questions still hung over the "reflation" trades that had lifted markets since Donald Trump became US president.

A run of disappointing US economic data and doubts the Trump administration will progress with tax cuts have quelled expectations of faster inflation.


Sterling was down 0.19 per cent at US$1.2811. It hit a six-month peak against the dollar on Tuesday following British Prime Minister Theresa May's call for an early general election on June 8, seeking to strengthen her party's majority ahead of Brexit negotiations.

Britain's FTSE 100 index fell 0.5 per cent. British stocks are vulnerable to a rising pound because more than two-thirds of FTSE 100 company earnings are derived from operations overseas.

The greenback was 0.54 per cent higher against the yen and up 0.17 per cent against the euro.

Gold dropped 1 per cent as the dollar gained, with spot gold falling as low as US$1,275.73 per ounce.