SINGAPORE: Brent crude futures held steady above $122 on Tuesday as investors awaited data out of China to gauge the economic health of the world's second-biggest oil consumer.
Investors are watching for signs that show China can dodge a hard landing as it tweaks monetary and fiscal policies to rein in rising costs and help small businesses hit by a global downturn. China's trade numbers scheduled for release later in the day may show if the revival in the United States has boosted Chinese exports to America.
Front-month Brent crude was unchanged at $122.67 a barrel by 0141 GMT, after settling 76 cents lower. The contract slipped as low as $121.02 on Monday, the lowest since March 15.US oil gained 10 cents to $102.56, after settling 85cents lower at $102.46.
"Today's data will give further evidence to show how much of a slowdown the Chinese economy is experiencing," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at Options Xpress in Sydney. "Prices have fallen very close to their support levels and the series of data due this week from China and elsewhere will pave the direction."
The European benchmark may trade between $120 and $125 a barrel and US crude in a $100-$105 range as participants await details on China's gross domestic product, industrial output and US consumer prices due later this week to gauge the demand growth outlook in the world's two top economies.
China is expected to report first-quarter growth of 8.3 percent on-year, according to a poll. That would compare with an 8.9 percent growth in the last quarter of 2011 and be the slowest in nearly three years, but still comfortably above China's target of 7.5 percent growth this year.
Oil futures are also under pressure on expectations of a further increase in US commercial crude inventories, building on the biggest two-week increase in more than a decade, as higher imports easily outpaced sluggish refinery demand.
Industry group American Petroleum Institute (API) is due to release its numbers later in the day.
Brent is expected to end its current rebound below the April 5 high of $123.54 per barrel and revisit Monday's low of$121.02, while US oil may edge up to $103.40 per barrel, an hourly chart high touched on April 5, according to technical analyst Wang Tao. (Reuters)