Tokyo - Oil prices eased in Asian trade on Monday as weak Chinese trade data stoked concerns over demand in the world's top energy consumer, analysts said.
New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for April delivery, was down nine cents at $102.49 in mid-morning trade. Brent North Sea crude for April was down 41 cents at $108.59.
Asian markets are digesting Chinese official figures released on Saturday that showed the world's second biggest economy recorded an unexpected $22.98 billion trade deficit in February.
The figure compared with a surplus of $14.8 billion in the same month last year, and a median forecast of an $11.9 billion surplus in a poll of 13 economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
“Any time there are concerns about China's growth and the numbers point that way, that will obviously put downward pressure on oil prices, especially Brent prices,” David Lennox, resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, told AFP.
The Chinese government said the weak trade figures were a result of “sharp fluctuations in the monthly growth rate as well as the monthly deficit” during the country's holiday season.
Investors continue to keep a close watch on the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine, as pro-Russian activists clashed with pro-Kiev supporters in mass rallies across the ex-Soviet state on Sunday.
The former Soviet state is in danger of breaking apart as its autonomous Crimean region inches closer towards joining Russia, in a sharp escalation of the worst East-West security crisis since the Cold War.
Fears of an immediate armed conflict due to Russia's incursion into the Crimean peninsula have receded but oil prices remain supported over concerns US and European sanctions on Moscow could wreak turmoil in markets.
Russia is a crucial global energy producer and exporter of natural gas to Western Europe, and more than 70 percent of its gas and oil exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. - AFP