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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude oil futures fell on Wednesday, as U.S. crude inventories soared to their highest level in more than 20 years after rising for the sixth straight week last week and employment dipped in the United States and Europe, dimming the outlook for oil demand.
The decline reversed the previous session's gains, as the larger-than-expected crude stock build added to pressure from earlier data showing U.S. private employers hired fewer workers than expected in April, and that the euro zone's manufacturing sector declined further, causing more job losses.
Also stoking negative sentiment, new orders for U.S. factory goods posted their biggest decline in three years, though the latest data was slightly higher than expected.
Fears of further price turmoil in the oil markets followed the recent take-down of a hefty geopolitical premium after Iran agreed to return to the negotiating table with six world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
U.S. crude oil stocks rose 2.84 million barrels last week to 375.86 million barrels, more than forecast, and hitting the highest level since September 1990.
Domestic crude stocks have ballooned more than 29 million barrels since late March, the biggest six-week increase since February 2009, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed. <EIA/S>
A big portion of last week's increase came from crude stored at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point for U.S.-traded crude futures, which soared to a record 42.96 million barrels after adding 1.2 million barrels last week.
In refined products, gasoline stocks slid more than expected by 2 million barrels to 209.7 million, the 11th week in a row of declines. In that period, gasoline stocks have fallen 22.5 million barrels or nearly 10 percent.
But gasoline demand continued to fall from last week's level, hitting 4.7 percent on a four-week average, from 4.2 percent in the previous week's report.
"The report doesn't seem to be supportive of a further rally," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
In London, ICE June Brent crude settled down $1.46 at $118.20 a barrel. The contract is well below the year's high of $128.40 reached on March 1.
U.S. crude for June delivery settled at $105.22, the 50-day average, after dropping to session low of $104.91. U.S. crude has fallen from this year's high of $110.55, also hit on March 1.
"At current levels, U.S. crude is moving at the middle of the recent trading range, with resistance lying above $106 to $109, said Rich Alexander, senior broker at the Zaner Group in Chicago.
The day's selling pushed Brent crude's total trading volume about 18 percent from its 30-day average, according to Reuters data. U.S. crude volume was up nearly 11 percent above its 30-day average.
As Brent crude fell harder than U.S. crude, its premium against U.S. crude narrowed to $12.98 at the close, from $13.50 on Tuesday. The Brent/WTI spread slipped to $12.65 at one point, the narrowest since February 1.
Hiring in the U.S. private sector slowed as the ADP National Employment Report showed 119,000 were added in April, below expectations for a 177,000 gain, stoking concerns that the economy had lost steam.
In the euro zone, companies cut workers at the fastest pace in over two years after new factory orders fell for the 11th straight month, according to the closely watched Markit Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index. <ID: nL5E8G223R>
In the U.S., more data from the labor market are awaited, with weekly initial jobless claims and layoffs in April due on Thursday.
With the blockbuster nonfarm payrolls and unemployment data due on Friday, oil investors are turning cautious.
A Reuters poll showed that non-farm payrolls likely rose 170,000 last month, after a meager 120,000 addition in March. The unemployment rate was forecast to hold at a three-year low of 8.2 percent. <ID: nL1E8G1E9>
Concerns about the demand outlook for China, the No. 2 oil consumer behind the United States, also pressured prices.
Data showed that Chinese bank lending dropped 30 percent in April, from March, as credit demand declined, the official China Securities Journal reported on Wednesday.
Worries about supply disruption from Iran has eased in the wake of conciliatory words from Iran and Jerusalem, a factor in
the recent drop in oil prices.
On Wednesday, Iran said it would seek an end to sanctions over its nuclear activities at talks with world powers on May 23 in Baghdad. However, the U.S. and its allies have made clear that Tehran must take action to allay fears about its nuclear ambitions before they can relax the sanctions.
Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York, Simon Falush and Alex Lawler in London; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer, Alden Bentley, David Gregorio and Sofina Mirza-Reid