The price of oil declined Thursday but stayed above $100 a barrel after data showed subdued imports by China, the world’s largest crude consumer.
China’s customs data showed that imports rose 0.8 percent in April. That’s an improvement from the previous month’s 11.3 percent decline, but still weak.
Benchmark U.S. crude for June delivery fell 51 cents to close at $100.26 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international varieties of oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 9 cents to close at $108.04 in London. The previous day, U.S. crude jumped $1.27 after a surprise decline in the nation’s stockpiles.
The weak Chinese imports reflect slowing economic growth there, which means less demand for gasoline, diesel and other fuels made from crude oil.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine — where pro-Russian insurgents said they would go ahead with a Sunday referendum on autonomy — and another twist in Libya’s efforts to increase oil exports kept prices from falling further.
Analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt noted rebels in Libya “have broken off talks on the opening of the country’s two biggest oil terminals and have additionally threatened to reoccupy the two already opened oil terminals.”
Libya’s exports have dropped to less than 300,000 barrels a day compared with around 1.4 million barrels a year ago.
The average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. fell less than a penny to $3.67 per gallon according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. It was the 10th straight day of slight declines from what may have been this year’s spring peak of $3.70 per gallon, set April 28.
In other energy futures trading in New York:
• Wholesale gasoline fell 1.3 cents to close at $2.905 a gallon.
• Heating oil fell 0.7 cents to close at $2.92 a gallon.
• Natural gas fell 16.8 cents to close at $4.572 per 1,000 cubic feet.