Oil pared losses after falling more than $3 a barrel to settle below $100 a barrel on Wednesday as soft economic data from China darkened the outlook for global demand, and as U.S. crude oil inventory rose to a record level.
Brent crude futures fell $2.42 to settle at $99.95 a barrel, after dipping below $99 during th session for the first time since April 23.
Crude stocks in the United States rose by 6.7 million barrels last week to a record 395.3 million barrels, data from the Energy Information Administration showed, far exceeding forecasts of a 1 million-barrel build and pressuring U.S. oil prices.
U.S. oil settled down $2.43 at $91.03 a barrel. It hit a session low of $90.11, falling through its 50-day, 100-day, and 200-day moving averages.
"The market reared its head after we saw oil stocks jump to a three-decade high, and gasoline demand basically dropped to a decade low," said Gene McGillian, an analyst with Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
Trading volumes were high, with Brent 14 percent above its 30-day moving average and U.S. crude over 20 percent higher.
The spread between Brent and U.S. crude narrowed to $8.39 on Wednesday, the lowest since June 2012, before closing just below $9 for the second straight day.
The Brent contract slid 7 percent in April, its biggest monthly drop in 11 months, on the back of a series of indicators suggesting the global economy remains in a fragile state.
DOUBTS ABOUT GROWTH
Growth in China's manufacturing sector unexpectedly slowed in April as new export orders fell, raising fresh doubts about the strength of the economy after a disappointing first quarter.
"China's manufacturing data was a big miss, and obviously when China speaks, we listen," said Richard Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of iitrader.com LLC in Chicago.
In the United States, the pace of manufacturing growth slowed in April as the sector expanded only modestly, an industry report showed, adding to signs the economy cooled as the second quarter got underway.
Figures on private-sector jobs growth also came in below market expectations, two days before the government's closely watched non-farm payrolls data.
"The combination of ample supply and weak fuel demand levels with disappointing economic data wiped out $4 of market rebound in a couple of days," said McGillian.
The U.S. Federal Reserve said it will keep buying $85 billion in bonds each month to keep interest rates low and spur growth, but added it could lift or taper this pace of purchases depending on the economy's path.
The European Central Bank is widely expected to cut interest rates to a record low of 0.5 percent after data showed inflation in the euro zone had fallen to a three-year low and unemployment had hit a record of 12.1 percent.
Oil market fundamentals showed plentiful supplies, which also pressured prices.
Supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is predicted to average 30.46 million barrels per day (bpd)in April, up from 30.18 million bpd in March, a Reuters survey showed.
The Buzzard oilfield in the North Sea, an important contributor to the Brent crude benchmark, was on schedule to restart later on Wednesday, trade sources said, after a steam release caused the field to be shut down on Monday. (Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York, Ron Bousso in London, Aaron Sheldrick and James Topham in Tokyo; editing by Gunna Dickson and Bob Burgdorfer)