Oil prices down in Asian trade

Oil prices fell in Asia Tuesday following disappointing manufacturing data out of top energy consumer China, and as dealers await fresh US economic figures, analysts said.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate eased 58 cents to $46.87 while Brent fell 35 cents to $55.57 in afternoon trade.

"Prices coming off slightly today may have to do with the weak flash manufacturing data coming out of China," Nicholas Teo, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, told AFP.

HSBC's preliminary purchasing managers index of China's manufacturing sector dipped to a 11-month low of 49.2 in March, down from 50.7 in February, data released early Tuesday showed.

The figure -- a key indicator of the health of the Asian economic giant -- missed the median estimate of a rise to 50.5 in a Bloomberg News survey. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Teo said dealers will next be focusing on a slew of US data, including on weekly crude stockpiles, oil rig count as well as the final reading on fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth on Friday.

"The GDP figures will be closely watched by the market as investors try to make sense of somewhat conflicting data, with a pick-up in US unemployment and unflattering retail sales data," Teo said.

Adding to price pressures, Saudi Arabia oil minister Ali al-Naimi on Sunday cited a recent increase in production, showing the OPEC kingpin remains committed to competing for market share.

Bloomberg News has reported that the kingdom is currently pumping almost 10 million barrels of crude a day, compared with 9.85 million in February.

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