Oil Falls as Investors Eye US Financial Turmoil

SINGAPORE - Oil prices fell Thursday in Asia to $96 a barrel on concerns the deepening turmoil in the U.S. financial system will slow global economic growth and cut oil demand.

Light, sweet crude for October delivery fell 97 cents to $96.19 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange midafternoon in Singapore. Overnight, the contract rose $6.01 to settle at $97.16, after dropping $10.03 the previous two trading sessions.

Oil jumped overnight as investors fled equities to crude as a short-term safe haven amid global market turmoil.

"Oil is not viewed as safe a haven as gold, but investors consider it safer than equities," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with consultancy Gertz & Purvin in Singapore. "If these financial troubles lead to a world recession however, that's going to affect demand big-time."

The Federal Reserve earlier on Wednesday had sought to calm investor fears by rescuing troubled insurer American International Group Inc. with an $85 billion bailout loan. The emergency measure came a day after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., a 158-year-old investment bank, filed for bankruptcy after failing to find a buyer.

Stepped up attacks by Nigerian militants against the country's oil infrastructure helped to support oil prices. In a fifth day of violence, Nigeria's main militant group said Wednesday that it had destroyed an oil-pumping station and a pipeline crossing southern Nigeria in a rare daylight attack.

A spokesman for Nigeria's state oil company said Wednesday that militant attacks are now cutting the country's daily oil production by about 1 million barrels a day, 40 percent of what the country produced before the militant campaign began three years ago.

"In the last few days, militant attacks in Nigeria have been stirring up again, but that's on the back burner right now," Shum said. "I see downward pressure on oil in the near-term, with the key support level at $90."

Also Wednesday, the U.S. government reported a bigger-than-expected drop in crude supplies, reflecting the shutdown of virtually all Gulf Coast oil production because of Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav.

The Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude stocks fell by 6.3 million barrels for the week ending Sept. 12, much bigger than the 3.7 million barrel drop expected by analysts surveyed by energy research firm Platts expected.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 3.47 cents to $2.79 a gallon, while gasoline prices dropped 5.19 cents to $2.411 a gallon. Natural gas for October delivery rose 24.6 cents to $8.156 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, October Brent crude fell 94 cents to $93.90 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.