LONDON - Oil held around $44 a barrel on Friday and was heading for its biggest weekly decline since June, as weak demand figures added to concerns of a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A U.S. government report showed domestic gasoline demand fell in the latest week. Middle distillates inventories at Asia's oil hub Singapore have soared above a nine-year high, official data showed.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 5 cents, or 0.1%, to $44.12 at 0745 GMT, heading for a 2.3% drop this week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell 3 cents to $41.34, set for the first weekly drop in five weeks.
In focus on Friday will be U.S. payrolls figures at 1230 GMT, which could be a selling trigger if an expected slowdown in hiring is steeper than forecast. The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 9.8% from 10.2%.
"Demand concerns are firmly front and centre of traders' minds," said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM. "Today's non-farm U.S. payroll report will be closely watched and a disappointing number could be the next bearish catalyst."
FGE analysts said rising coronavirus cases worldwide and renewed lockdowns would dash hopes of a drawdown in oil inventories for some time. The pressure remains on refiners to keep operating rates low, FGE said.
Oil has recovered from April, when Brent slumped to a 21-year low below $16 and U.S. crude briefly went into negative territory.
A record supply cut since May by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, has supported prices.
OPEC began in August to ease the volume of the cutback, raising output by almost 1 million barrels per day according to a Reuters survey.
(Additional reporting by Florence Tan and Koustav Samanta; Editing by Mark Potter) ((email@example.com; +44 207 542 4087; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))