A cup of heavy oil produced at the Statoil oil sands operation near Conklin, Alberta. - Reuters photo

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell in Asian trade Friday, weighed down by disappointing Chinese trade data and an increase in crude production by the OPEC cartel, analysts said.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in June, was down 94 cents to $96.14 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for June shed 81 cents to $111.92 in morning trade.

“Weaker-than-expected Chinese trade data, higher OPEC production and evidence of a strengthening US jobs market muddied the oil demand outlook,”said Phillip Futures in a market commentary.

Official customs data released Thursday showed imports in China - the world's top energy consumer - edged up just 0.3 per cent year on year to $144.83 billion in April, raising questions about the government's ability to boost domestic demand.

China's exports to the debt-hit European Union grew a mere 0.3 per cent from January to April, reflecting recent indications of a contraction in manufacturing activity.

China's weak trade performance could lead the government to loosen monetary policy to spur expansion and avoid missing annual growth targets, Phillip Futures said.

An increase in oil production by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) also pressured prices, analysts said.

In its latest report, the 12-nation cartel said it pumped 31.62 million bpd (barrels per day) in April, up 0.32 million bpd from March, with Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Angola hiking production in a bid to stabilise prices.

Markets also remain shaken by worries about the eurozone after elections in Greece and France highlighted public rejection of austerity measures aimed at dealing with the eurozone debt crisis.

“The energy markets have been looking for some strong economic data within the European political upheaval but sadly it hasn't been forthcoming this week,” said Justin Harper, market strategist at IG Markets Singapore.

Updated May 11, 2012 04:56am

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