UPDATE 8-Oil down on weak Chinese, euro zone data

Thu Mar 22, 2012 7:56pm GMT

* China's March factory activity shrinks - HSBC Flash PMI

* France, German PMI falls sharply

* Iran watched, South Africa stops oil imports

* U.S. weekly jobless claims drop to 4-year low

By Gene Ramos

NEW YORK, March 22 (Reuters) - Oil fell 1 percent in light activity on Thursday, dragged down by manufacturing data from China and the euro zone showing a drop in new orders that spurred fresh concerns about global fuel demand.

Factory activity in China, one of the biggest engines of global oil demand growth, shrank in March for a fifth straight month, with the rate of contraction accelerating and new orders sinking to a four-month low.

The report put oil markets, which have been balancing concerns about global demand against the potential loss of Iranian crude supplies, on a bearish trajectory in Asian trading. Prices dropped further after data showed a sharp fall in French and German factory activity that even the most pessimistic economists, eyeing the euro zone's debt woes, failed to predict.

"There's a bit of a China backlash at the moment, and we should expect more turbulence as people assess whether China is heading for a hard or a soft landing," said Filip Petersson, commodity strategist at SEB in Stockholm.   Continued...

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