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Oil prices mixed in Asia, WTI stays below US$50

Crude's plunge keeps piling on the bad news for oil producers, who are having the worst start to a year on record. More than US$100 billion has been wiped off the 61-company Bloomberg World Oil & Gas Index this year as it plunged to the lowest since August 2004. It has dropped 5.6 per cent, making it the worst opening to the year since the index started in 2003. Thailand's PTT Pcl, Apache Corp and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp led the decline.

[SINGAPORE] Oil prices were mixed in Asia on Thursday, with WTI stuck below US$50 a barrel after a rise in US stockpiles added to concerns over a supply glut, analysts said.

The US Department of Energy on Wednesday said the country's commercial crude stockpiles rose 2.5 million barrels last week, while supplies at the closely watched Cushing, Oklahoma, hub were up 800,000 barrels.

The report also showed US production staying at near-record levels of about 9.6 million barrels per day, bad news for a market already awash with crude from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

In late-morning Asian trade, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in September was up six cents at US$49.25 after closing Wednesday below US$50 a barrel for the first time since April.

Brent crude for September fell six cents to US$56.12.

"US inventories expanded more than expected... which exacerbated the oversupply problem, especially when Saudi is pumping at record production levels," said Bernard Aw, market strategist at IG Markets Singapore.

"Opec produced 32.1 million barrels per day in June, with the largest increase coming from Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This was 2.1 million more than what the organisation said it will maintain," Mr Aw said in a market commentary.

A strong US currency is also putting further downward pressure on oil. With the commodity priced in dollars, it becomes more expensive for holders of weaker currencies, denting demand.

"The recent run-up in the greenback presented another pressure point for crude. It now looks like oil may move lower, with March lows of US$42-$45 in the crosshairs," Mr Aw said.

Expectations that the US central bank is on track to raise interest rates this year have boosted the dollar as investors flock to the currency in the hope of getting better returns.