SINGAPORE/LONDON: Oil prices dropped close to 2% on Friday on a worsening global economic outlook after the European Central Bank (ECB) warned of continued weakness and fresh data showed Chinese imports and exports slumped last month.
With surging US oil supply also unsettling markets, international benchmark Brent crude futures lost $1.22, or 1.9%, to $65.08 a barrel at 1040 GMT.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down $0.96, or 1.7%, at $55.71.
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Financial markets, including crude oil futures, took a hit after comments on Thursday from ECB President Mario Draghi, saying the European economy was in "a period of continued weakness and pervasive uncertainty".
Europe's economic weakness comes as growth in Asia is also slowing.
So far oil demand has held up, especially in China, where imports of crude remain above 10 million barrels per day (bpd). Yet a slowdown in economic growth is likely to dent fuel demand and pressure prices at some point.
China's dollar-denominated February exports fell 21% from a year earlier, representing the biggest drop in three years and far worse than analysts had expected, while imports dropped 5.2%, official data showed on Friday.
On the supply side, crude oil has been receiving support this year from output cuts led by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
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But these efforts are being undermined by soaring US crude oil production, which has increased by more than 2 million bpd since early 2018 to an unprecedented 12.1 million bpd. That makes America the world's biggest producer, ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Investment bank Jefferies on Friday said US output growth was largely being fueled by onshore shale production, which had recently benefited from investments by oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron.
"The majors bring scale, steady capital investment and science to the play," the US bank said, adding that this could lead to a higher growth trajectory and cap the upside oil prices.
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US crude exports have also been chasing records, reaching 3.6 million bpd in February - more than the production of OPEC members such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iran.
"The United States will soon export more oil and liquids than Saudi Arabia," consultancy Rystad Energy said this week. Liquids include non-crude oil products such as natural gas liquids (NGLs).
"The (Saudi) kingdom currently exports some 7 million bpd of crude oil plus about 2 million bpd of NGLs and petroleum products, compared with the US now exporting approximately 3 million bpd of crude oil and 5 million barrels of NGLs and petroleum products," Rystad said. "US oil production ... will grow by close to another 1 million bpd in 2019."
Rystad said this export surge would have huge benefits for the US economy.
"The US trade deficit will evaporate and its foreign debt will be paid quickly thanks to the swift rise of American oil and gas net exports," said Rystad partner Per Magnus Nysveen.
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