Oil eases in Asian trade

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Tokyo - Oil prices eased in Asian trade on Monday as data showing weak Chinese manufacturing activity fuelled concerns over energy demand in the world's second-largest economy, analysts said.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for March delivery, eased 51 cents at $96.98 in mid-morning trade while Brent North Sea crude for March was down 26 cents at $106.14.

“Commodity prices are currently under pressure due to weaker-than-expected data on Chinese manufacturing activity,” Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, told AFP.

China on Saturday said manufacturing activity slipped to a five-month low in January, confirming a slowdown in factory activity in the world's top energy consumer.

The monthly purchasing managers' index (PMI) declined to 50.5 in January after recording 51 in December and 51.4 in November, according to the government's National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing.

Any figure above the 50 mark indicates expansion of manufacturing activity while anything below that signals contraction.

The news came days after banking giant HSBC's PMI came in at a six-month low of 49.5.

Chua said investors will be keeping a close watch on US non-farm payrolls and unemployment data due out on Friday.

“Investors will be focused on the jobs data to see if the disappointing December numbers are a one-off as the US Federal Reserve has said, or if it is the start of something larger,” Chua said.

The US Labour Department last month said the US economy added just 74 000 jobs in December, well below the 197 000 expected by analysts.

The unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage point to 6.7 percent, the lowest since October 2008, mainly due to people dropping out of the labour force. - AFP

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