SINGAPORE – Oil prices fell to near $96 a barrel Thursday in Asia after U.S. crude supplies rose to a 22-year high, suggesting demand remains weak.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 43 cents to $96.38 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 20 cents to settle at $96.81 in New York on Wednesday.
Brent crude for June delivery was down 27 cents at $112.93 per barrel in London.
On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration said that increased oil imports and weaker domestic demand for petroleum helped boost U.S. oil inventories last week to 379.5 million barrels, the highest since 1990.
China reported Thursday that its imports and exports in April grew less than analysts expected, sparking investor concern crude demand may be waning in the world's second largest economy.
Crude has slumped $10, or about 10 percent, from $106 last week amid fears the global economy may grow less than expected this year. Political upheaval in France and Greece this week also renewed worries about Europe's debt crisis and weak economy.
Some analysts expect oil prices to stabilize after the recent sell-off unless the global economy deteriorates significantly further.
"One could perhaps argue that with inventories building and global oil demand conditions softer in the first quarter, prices were on the high side to begin with," Barclays said in a report. However, "the path of least resistance in prices is likely to be a slow grind higher from here in the coming months."
In other energy trading, heating oil was down 0.8 cents at $2.99 per gallon and gasoline futures slid 1.5 cents to $3.01 per gallon. Natural gas added 1 cent at $2.48 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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