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Weak US manufacturing report sends crude lower, halting overnight rally; NYMEX WTI down to $56.56/b, ICE Brent $65.39/b

New York — A weaker-than-expected US manufacturing report halted an early-session crude oil price rally and swung futures into negative territory in midmorning trading Friday.

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NYMEX April WTI was down 65 cents at $56.56/b and ICE May Brent fell 92 cents to $65.39/b.

US manufacturing activity expanded at a slower rate in February, according to Institute of Supply Management data released Friday morning. The group's closely watched manufacturing index fell to 54.2% in February, a 2.4 percentage point drop from 56.6% in January.

"Concerns of weaker economic growth or demand growth may have sparked some profit-taking here," Tradition Energy analyst Gene McGillian said. "When the market gets focused on it we seem to come under pressure."

The report comes on the heels of a decline in a key Chinese manufacturing index. China's February Manufacturing Purchasing Index, released Thursday, slipped 0.3 points to 49.2, marking a third straight month of declining factory activity.

The data release reversed an overnight rally that saw WTI test four-month highs at $57.79/b.

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Crude prices had been trading higher following reports that OPEC crude supply dropped to a four-year low in February. OPEC production fell 300,000 b/d to around 30.68 million b/d last month, according to a Reuters survey released Friday.

"We need to see a combination of expectations of tightening supply from producers, as well as an easing of fears about demand growth," McGillian said. "If we don't have half of that, if we don't have strong demand growth, this market may stall and I wouldn't be surprised to see us start retracing a bit."

The Brent/WTI spread narrowed to as low as around $8.60/b, testing levels last seen in early February.

NYMEX April ULSD, which was already trading below its open early on Friday, came under further pressure following the ISM manufacturing report release, and was down 2.73 cents at $2/gal. April RBOB futures tracked crude into negative territory, and fell 1.63 cents to $1.7360/gal.

-- Chris van Moessner,

-- Edited by Jennifer Pedrick,