NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude futures ended lower Thursday, slammed by concerns about an oil glut in the U.S. Midwest and the possibility of a European economic slowdown.

In thin trading, the expiring contract for light, sweet crude for June delivery settled at $68.01 a barrel, down $1.86, or 2.7% on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The most-active July contract settled $1.68, or 2.3%, lower at $70.80 a barrel. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange was recently down $1.69, or 2.3%, at $72 a barrel.

At one point, the June contract traded down to $64.24 a barrel, an 8% plunge and the lowest price seen since July 2009.

Market participants said the bulk of the day's losses stemmed from a flight from risk seen in many markets, including precious metals and equities. The S&P 500, recently down 2% at 1092.66, has entered correction territory, and June palladium plunged $50.75, or 11%, to $408.95 an ounce.

Investors are worried that global economic growth could suffer if Greece's debt crisis spreads beyond its borders. The European Union and International Monetary Fund have crafted a nearly $1 trillion aid package aimed at containing Greece's debt crisis. But the plan will need approval from the German parliament in a vote scheduled Friday. A widening of the debt crisis could slow economic growth and oil demand in Europe, and potentially worldwide.

An unexpected surge in new jobless claims in a U.S. Labor Department report also fed into existing jitters about the threats to the global economic recovery.

Gasoline futures, a market where a large portion of demand is driven by the number of people commuting to work, ended below $2 a gallon for the first time since February. Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 5.07 cents, or 2.5%, lower at $1.9645 a gallon. June heating oil settled 4.33 cents, or 2.2%, lower at $1.9019 a gallon.

Oil experienced a partial rebound in afternoon trading after a sudden surge by the euro against the dollar, making crude cheaper to purchase using the European currency. The euro was recently at $1.2592, from $1.2296 earlier.

However, currency market participants said the euro's rebound had little to do with any improved outlook on Greece's debt or European economic growth. Instead, the rebound came during a period of light trading, after many investors had left currency markets to avoid exposure to the unpredictable global impact of the sovereign debt crisis. Volumes in major currency pairs are possibly half what they would normally be, said Sebastien Galy, currency strategist at BNP Paribas in New York.

Crude futures also weren't entirely able to shake the downward pull of the growing oil glut at Cushing, Okla. The delivery point for the physical barrels underpinning the Nymex contract has seen inventories swell to a record 37.9 million barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Oil for near-term delivery is trading at a deep discount to reflect the growing scarcity of empty storage tanks, with the gap between June and July futures stretching 8 cents to $2.79 a barrel. Available capacity at Cushing is thought to total between 40 million and 50 million barrels.

"There's just no denying we're reaching full capacity, and if we hit it there will be a flood of barrels onto the spot market," said Hamza Khan, an analyst with The Schork Report, an energy newsletter. "Traders are going to become very concerned about this."


More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:


Nymex Light Crude Oil Close
Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close
Nymex Heating Oil Close
ICE Brent Crude Oil Close
ICE Gas Oil Close

-By Brian Baskin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2453; brian.baskin@dowjones.com