Oil fell $1 to $48 a barrel on Wednesday after government data showed U.S. crude supplies swelled to the highest level in nearly two years, and the World Bank cut its forecast for China's economic growth this year.
In its weekly report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said crude oil stocks rose 2.0 million barrels to 353.3 million last week -- double the increase forecast by analysts.
Gasoline supplies jumped by 3.2 million barrels, countering forecasts of a 1.2-million barrel drop.
The numbers look bearish. It's the build in gasoline that was most dramatically bearish since the market was looking for a decline, said Tim Evans, analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York.
Slumping demand and rising inventories have helped drag oil off record highs over $147 a barrel struck in July as the economic meltdown hit consumption across the globe.
Further weakness came after the World Bank cut its forecast for 2009 economic growth in No. 2 consumer China and said Beijing would undermine its own medium-term goals if it tried to offset the slowdown by further boosting investment.
Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale, said oil prices were near the top of the range seen over the last three months.
I don't see any reason fundamentally why we should break out of this range to the upside, he said. The picture remains the same: weak economy, weak oil demand.
The steep drop in oil prices pushed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to agree to deep production cuts last year. On Sunday, the group agreed to leave output targets unchanged but promised stricter enforcement of existing curbs.
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi on Wednesday said prices have stabilized and the next thing to hope for was a gradual improvement in prices.
(Reporting by Matthew Robinson, Gene Ramos, and Robert Gibbons in New York, Christopher Johnson in London; Fayen Wong in Perth; Editing by David Gregorio)