* U.S. crude stocks fall 5.8 mln barrels, compared to
expectations for build -API
* China March PMI at 50.3 vs February's 50.2 -govt
* Libyan rebels say may restart 3 oil ports
* Coming up: EIA inventory data at Wednesday 10:30 EDT (1430
(Adds API data, Libyan rebel leader comment on ending ports
By Elizabeth Dilts
NEW YORK, April 1 Brent crude oil futures fell
in a steady slide on Tuesday to settle at nearly a five
month-low as poor manufacturing data from China and Europe
weighed. U.S. oil futures also fell as analysts looked toward
another build in stocks Wednesday.
Chinese factory activity edged up in March, but not by
enough to extinguish worries that the country, the world's No. 2
oil consumer, had a sharper-than-expected slowdown at the start
of the year.
Growth in euro zone factories cooled too and companies have
returned to cutting prices in order to drum up business.
U.S. oil was weighed throughout Tuesday's session by
expectations that government data to be released Wednesday would
show U.S. commercial crude stocks rose for 11th straight week in
Preliminary data released late Tuesday by the industry group
the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed the opposite,
though. Crude inventories dropped 5.8 million barrels in the
week to March 28, compared with analysts' expectations for an
increase of 1.1 million barrels, API data showed.
U.S. crude oil futures pared losses by about 30 cents in
post-settlement trade immediately after the report was released.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its
official data on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT).
Further weighing on Brent, a rebel group in eastern Libya
will agree with the government to end its blockade of three,
vital oil export ports within days, a senior rebel leader told
Reuters on Tuesday. Together, those ports
accounted for exports of 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) before
they were occupied by rebel groups last summer.
Libya's oil exports have fallen to less than 100,000 bpd
from a post-civil war peak of more than 1 million bpd.
Brent crude settled $2.14 lower at $105.62 per
barrel, its lowest settlement since Nov. 8. U.S. crude
fell $1.84 to $99.74 per barrel.
"Crude is being pressured by the disappointing China data
and expectations for further crude oil inventory builds in the
United States," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC
in New York. "There was a technical breakdown as well with U.S.
crude pushing below the 200 and 50-day moving averages."
U.S. crude fell to a session low of $99.47 per barrel, below
two key technical levels, the 200-day moving average at $100.49
per barrel and the 50-day moving average at $99.91 per barrel.
Once a price falls below technical levels, it continues to
slide lower, Kilduff said.
Brent's premium over U.S. crude CL-LCO1=R tightened 30
cents to settle at $5.88, the narrowest settlement since Oct. 4.
Investors have also continued to watch the Ukraine crisis,
which has raised fears of possible supply disruptions from
Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter.
In a gesture that could ease tension in the worst East-West
stand-off since the Cold War, Russia pulled some troops back
from near Ukraine's eastern frontier, a move the United States
said would be a positive sign if confirmed as a withdrawal.
Analysts said Tuesday's price falls will likely flatten out
later in the week.
"We're not necessarily at the start of a crater," said Phil
Thompson, director of Mobius Risk Group in Houston. "(Tuesday's)
moves are a little bit exacerbated because liquidity is
(Additional reporting by David Sheppard in London and Florence
Tan in Singapore; editing by David Gregorio, Marguerita Choy and