US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March dropped 17 cents to USD 103.14 in late morning trade, while Brent North Sea crude eased 56 cents to USD 109.91 for its April delivery.

British banking giant HSBC's preliminary reading for its purchasing managers' index (PMI) for China, which tracks manufacturing activity in factories and workshops, fell to 48.3 cents this month.

That marked a further tumble from the final reading of 49.5 in January, when the figure showed contraction for the first time in six months. The index is a closely-watched gauge of the health of the world's second biggest economy.
    
A reading above 50 indicates growth, while anything below signals contraction. "The below 50 readings of the past two months leave little doubt that conditions in the manufacturing sector are downbeat," Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at research house Capital Economics, said in a market commentary.

Investors will now focus on US energy stockpiles report to be released later on Thursday.
    
Kenny Kan, market analyst at CMC markets in Singapore, said there is ‘wide expectation’ that stockpiles will fall due to the harsh winter weather, which has driven up demand for heating fuels and is supportive of prices.

(Agencies)

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