Oil fell to $71 on Thursday, extending losses by more than $3 after touching a 10-month high this week, as rising crude and diesel stocks eclipsed healthy economic data from the United States and Europe.
Investors are also edgy about the pace of economic recovery in China, a likely clampdown on lending and plans to curtail overcapacity, prompting falls in equities markets in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Japan.
U.S. crude for October fell 34 cents to $71.11 a barrel by 0641 GMT, retreating further from $75 hit earlier this week, the highest level since October. Brent crude lost 40 cents to $71.25 a barrel.
The question is whether both the commodities and equities markets have priced in the turnaround in the U.S. housing markets and other data, said Ben Westmore, commodities analyst with National Australia Bank.
He was referring to better-than-expected gains in U.S. housing prices, an increase in durable goods orders and consumer confidence this week, lending new credence to the view that the economy is emerging from recession.
I don't think the markets will move much more on that.
Eyes will now be on the U.S. GDP and jobless claims data later on Thursday, as well as German consumer sentiment.
Stirring concerns over the growth of the world's No. 2 energy consumer, the Chinese cabinet said on Wednesday it would take steps to curb redundant investment and overcapacity in industries ranging from steel to wind power equipment.
The decision came amid fears that China's $585 billion stimulus plan and a surge in new lending in the first half could trigger wasteful investment and a new crop of bad loans. It followed Premier Wen Jiabao's remarks that the economy faces new difficulties, including trouble boosting domestic consumption.
Westmore said the oil markets were still weighed down by overcapacity, as shown by recent crude and products inventory data in the world's largest consumer.
U.S. crude inventories rose by 200,000 barrels last week due to a rebound in imports weaker demand from refiners, Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed, versus analyst expectations for a 1.1 million-barrel decline.
Stocks of middle distillates, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 800,000 barrels to total 162.4 million barrels last week, up over 30 million barrels against last year, and topping projections of a 300,000-barrel build.
Gasoline stocks fell by a larger-than-expected 1.7 million barrels, against an expected 1 million-barrel fall.
About 72 million barrels of gas oil for heating and jet fuel are also being stored in tankers globally, up from around 62 million barrels in June, at a time of uncertain demand from markets in the West going into the peak winter period.
On current fundamentals, traders do not see prices breaking $75, the level at which they have been taking profits after oil jumped almost 130 percent from the lows at the turn of the year.
Oil's fall, fears that the five-month rally in risky assets may have run ahead of the global recovery and worries over Chinese shares, dampened commodity-linked currencies such as the Australian dollar, as well as the U.S. dollar, against the yen.
Oil has also not received much support from the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season as Tropical Storm Danny, the fourth for this year, posed no foreseeable threat to the Gulf of Mexico oil area and its most likely track was expected to stay well out to sea for the next few days, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)