Oil prices fall on profit-taking

Global crude oil prices turned lower on Thursday as traders banked profits despite strong Chinese manufacturing data.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May fell 35 cents to $108.37 a barrel in London midday deals.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for May, dropped 31 cents to $93.19 a barrel.

Prices had rallied in New York on Wednesday after the US Department of Energy reported an unexpected decline of 1.3 million barrels in oil stocks in the week ending March 15. Analysts had forecast a rise of 1.7 million barrels.

On Thursday, figures from HSBC bank showed that manufacturing activity in China, the world's largest energy user, improved in March after expanding at its slowest pace in four months in February -- lifting hopes for a pick-up in the world's number two economy.

The bank's preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI), a widely watched barometer of the health of the economy, came in at 51.7 for the month from 50.4 in February.

A reading above 50 points to growth while anything below indicates contraction.

"It's not a spectacular number, but we may see prices ticking up slightly. The fact that we are seeing a continued expansion is a good sign of China's economic progress," said Jason Hughes, head of premium client management at IG Markets Singapore.