Oil prices fall on poor European data

Oil prices dropped on Tuesday after rising earlier in the day, as traders focused on disappointing European manufacturing data and news of record-high eurozone unemployment, analysts said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May fell 35 cents to stand at $110.73 a barrel in late London deals and after rising by about 30 cents in morning trade.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for May, slipped 64 cents to $96.43 a barrel.

"Manufacturing PMIs from several European countries including Italy, Spain and the UK all came in weaker than expected today," said Fawad Razaqzada, an analyst at trading group GFT Markets.

"This followed a disappointing US ISM Manufacturing PMI we saw yesterday, which pointed to weaker a demand outlook from the world's largest consumer of oil."

Eurozone unemployment ran at a record 12 percent in February, official data showed Tuesday, with more than 19 million people on the dole.

The figures and a weak manufacturing sector report added to the gloom after data earlier this year had encouraged some hope the European economy might finally have touched bottom.

"Such unacceptably high levels of unemployment are a tragedy for Europe," said a spokeswoman for EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor.

Manufacturing data meanwhile showed the slump deepening sharply as even Germany was dragged down.

The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index fell to 46.8 points in March, up from an initial estimate of 46.6 but well short of the already weak 47.9 posted in February.

Markets were also closely tracking developments in Cyprus, where Finance Minister Michalis Sarris resigned Tuesday, hours after a judicial probe was launched into how the eurozone member was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy before having to agree a crippling bailout.