- A less-than-stellar Chinese purchasing managers'' index sent crude prices falling on Thursday, though slight improvements to the index from previous months cushioned oil''s losses.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in July traded at $103.87 a barrel during U.S. trading, down 0.19%. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $103.68 a barrel and a high of $104.20 a barrel.

The July contract settled up 1.70% at $104.07 a barrel on Wednesday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $100.82 a barrel, Thursday''s low, and resistance at $104.29 a barrel, Wednesday''s high.

A preliminary reading of China’s HSBC manufacturing purchasing managers'' index rose to a five-month high of 49.7, beating expectations for a 48.1 reading.

Still, the figure remained below the 50 mark separating contraction from expansion, which softened oil prices, though the improving figure cushioned losses.

China is the world''s second-largest consumer of crude after the U.S., where solid data curbed oil''s losses as well.

The National Association of Realtors reported earlier that U.S. existing home sales increased 1.3% in April to an annual rate of 4.65 million units.

Analysts were expecting existing home sales to rise 2.2% to 4.68 million last month, however, April''s increase indicated that the housing market continues to improve.

A separate report showed that U.S. manufacturing activity expanded at a faster rate than expected this month. London-based Markit Economics reported earlier that its preliminary U.S. manufacturing purchasing managers'' index rose to 56.2 from a final reading of 55.4 in April, beating expectations of 55.5.

The data came after the Labor Department reported that the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits last week increased by 28,000 to 326,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 298,000. Analysts had expected jobless claims to rise by 12,000 to 310,000, though markets shrugged off the data.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for July delivery were down 0.11% and trading at US$110.43 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$6.56 a barrel.

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