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Oil prices down in Asia trade after surprise increase in US stockpiles

SINGAPORE--Oil prices fell in Asia Thursday following a surprise increase in U.S. commercial crude-oil stockpiles and a slew of soft economic data from leading energy consumers.

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate eased 44 cents to US$97.15 while Brent crude shed 48 cents to US$103.80 in afternoon trade.

A build in U.S. inventories for the first time in seven weeks weighed on prices, analysts said.

U.S. crude-oil inventories rose by 1.4 million barrels, to 367.0 million, in the week ending August 8, the Department of Energy said. Crude-oil supplies had contracted by roughly 22 million barrels over the prior six weeks.

The inventories increase surprised analysts, who expected a decline of 1.7 million barrels, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires.

Benchmark prices also weakened due to “soft economic data from Europe and China,” said Sanjeev Gupta, head of the Asia-Pacific oil and gas practice at consultancy firm EY.

A string of disappointing Chinese data released Wednesday raised concerns about growth in the world's second largest economy and top energy consumer.

The Asian giant's bank lending plunged to 385.2 billion yuan (US$62.5 billion) in July, a dramatic decline from June's 1.08 trillion yuan as the weakening property sector hit demand for loans.

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