March 8 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices were decidedly lower early Friday amid trader concerns about the European and Chinese economies and a relatively weak jobs report in the United States.
West Texas Intermediate crude future prices fell 3.4 percent to $54.76 per barrel as of 9:15 a.m. EST, while Brent crude futures fell 3.2 percent to $64.15 per barrel
"Crude prices were weaker Friday after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi commented that the European economy was in a period of continued weakness and uncertainty, and further hit by data showing that Chinese imports and exports fell last month," Jack Allardyce, oil and gas analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, told UPI.
"Official data today showed that China's dollar-denominated February exports fell 21 percent year-on-year, representing the largest drop in three years and far worse than forecast, while imports dropped 5.2 percent," he added.
China is the world's biggest crude oil importer and any slowdown there can affect global crude prices. Europe is also a big energy consumer.
"While oil demand has just about held up so far, a slowdown in economic growth is likely to cause a dent and pressure prices at some point. On the supply side, benchmarks continue to be supported by OPEC cuts, but soaring U.S. production, up over 2 million barrels of oil equivalent per day since early 2018 to 12.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, is undermining those efforts," Allardyce added.
In the U.S. on Friday a weak February employment report showed 20,000 jobs were added to the economy, the smallest monthly gain in hiring in nearly a year and a half.
OPEC and Russia agreed on Dec. 7 to work together to reduce output by a combined 1.2 million barrels per day starting in January.
At current levels, WTI futures have reached their lowest since mid-February. WTI prices had climbed to a high of $57.25 per barrel on Feb 22.
WTI prices started the year just over $46 per barrel. WTI reached a high of over $76 per barrel on Oct. 3 but fell sharply in the last weeks of 2018 amid concerns about rising crude oil supplies at a time when the global economy could slow in part due to a U.S.-China trade war.