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Oil prices continue to slide as U.S. data feeds fuel demand worry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices settled lower on Thursday, at one point touching their lowest since early August as U.S. unemployment data fed fears of a slow recovery for the economy and fuel demand a day after weak U.S. gasoline demand data.

FILE PHOTO: The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Brent crude LCOc1 settled down 36 cents, or 0.8%, to $44.07 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures were down 14 cents, or 0.3%, at $41.37 a barrel.

Both benchmarks fell more than 2% earlier in the session.

U.S. stock prices sank as investors sold high-flying tech stocks and worried about economic recovery after Labor Department data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment reached a seasonally adjusted 881,000 for the latest week. Continuing claims remained high, with millions out of work.

A day earlier both oil benchmarks fell more than 2% after U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed domestic gasoline demand last week fell to 8.78 million barrels per day (bpd) from 9.16 million bpd a week earlier. Consumption of other oil products also fell. [EIA/S]

“The market failed to react positively to the drawdown in inventories and then threw in the towel for the Labor Day weekend,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

Analysts warn that upcoming refinery maintenance and the end of the summer driving season could also limit crude demand.

WTI crude has come under pressure “after U.S. refiners earmarked a long list of maintenance closures over the coming months that will no doubt impact demand for crude oil”, ANZ Research said in a note on Thursday.

Due to shutdowns ahead of Hurricane Laura, U.S. refinery utilization rates fell by 5.3 percentage points to 76.7% of total capacity, the EIA said. Some analysts believe processing will not rebound in the fall.

“Refineries running at low run rates will leave a lot of crude oil on the sidelines. That crude oil goes to storage. Bloated storage puts pressure on prices,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London; Shu Zhang in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by David Gregorio and Alistair Bell

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