[OIL PRICES] Oil Falls Toward $50 a Barrel as Fuel Use Falls, Equities Slump !

Crude oil fell for a fifth day, approaching $50 a barrel, as the contracting world economy increases concerns that demand for fuels will slow.

U.S. fuel use during the past four weeks averaged 19.1 million barrels a day, down 7 percent from a year ago, an Energy Department report said yesterday. Equities declined with the MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropping for a fourth day while the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday fell to the lowest since March 2003.

``The big picture remains one of weak demand, economic concerns and a falling market,'' said Antoine Halff, head of energy research at Newedge USA LLC in New York, in an interview with Bloomberg Television. ``U.S. demand has really been collapsing and dragging the OECD demand as well and we might end up with a contraction in global demand growth for the year.''

Crude oil for December delivery fell as much as 97 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $52.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was at $52.75 a barrel at 2:36 p.m. Singapore time. Yesterday, futures touched $52.79 a barrel, the lowest since Jan. 23, 2007.

Oil has dropped 64 percent since reaching a record $147.27 a barrel on July 11. Yesterday, December futures fell 77 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $53.62 a barrel, the lowest settlement since Jan. 22, 2007. The more active January futures contract was down 90 cents, or 1.7 percent, at $53.20 a barrel. December futures expire at the close of trading today.

``Everyone is looking at the demand and seeing it as a reason to sell,'' said Clarence Chu, a trader with options dealer Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore. ``People are looking at the Dow as an indication of how the economy is doing.''

Japan Exports Drop
In the latest evidence that the global recession is deepening, exports from Japan dropped at the fastest pace in almost seven years in October. Japan, the world's largest oil importer, fell into a recession last quarter.

Singapore will tomorrow confirm it entered a recession last quarter, joining Japan and Hong Kong. Gross domestic product in Asia's biggest oil-trading center declined at an annualized 6.3 percent pace from the second quarter, when it shrank 5.7 percent, according a Bloomberg survey.

Slipping oil and commodity prices caused the shares of explorers and producers to decline. Woodside Petroleum Ltd. fell 5 percent to A$32.25 in Sydney, its lowest price in three years. Cnooc Ltd. plunged 40 Hong Kong cents, or 7.2 percent, to HK$5.14.

U.S. Inventories
Oil prices also fell as U.S. crude inventories climbed because of declining demand for fuels. Crude-oil supplies rose 1.6 million barrels to 313.5 million barrels last week, the Energy Department said yesterday. Stockpiles were forecast to rise 1 million barrels, according to a Bloomberg News survey of analysts.

Gasoline inventories rose 539,000 barrels to 198.6 million barrels in the week ended Nov. 14, the report showed. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News were split over whether supplies of the motor fuel increased or declined.

U.S. fuel demand fell 5.2 percent in the first 10 months of this year, the biggest drop since 1981, the American Petroleum Institute said in a report yesterday.

Brent crude oil for January settlement fell as much as 97 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $50.75 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange. It was at $50.80 a barrel at 2:44 p.m. Singapore time. The contract yesterday declined 12 cents to $51.72 a barrel, the lowest settlement since Jan. 11, 2007.

Source: Bloomberg| By Christian Schmollinger

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