WASHINGTON -- Oil prices sank below $49 a barrel yesterday, falling sharply for the second day and settling near a three-month low as traders reacted to data showing crude supplies rising in the United States and demand growth slowing in China.
The two-day slide of more than $3.50 a barrel caused the stock prices of major oil producers and refiners to tumble.
Light sweet crude for June delivery fell $1.91 to $48.54 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where futures prices for gasoline and heating oil also declined. Crude futures fell $1.62 Wednesday. The last time crude futures settled below $49 was Feb. 18. A barrel of oil is roughly 20 percent more expensive than a year ago.
Crude oil futures surpassed $58 a barrel in early April but retreated in the face of steadily rising US commercial inventories. Refiners are stocking up on barrels ahead of summer.
The decline in oil prices has begun to trickle through at the pump. The average price nationwide is now $2.19 a gallon, down from the high a few weeks ago of $2.28.
Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. fell $2.47 to close at $54.82; Chevron Corp. slumped $1.35 to $52.05. Shares of independent refiner Valero Energy Corp. slid $5.17 to $62.03; Tesoro Corp. dropped by $2.59 to $38.68.
In London, June Brent fell $1.73 to $48.34 a barrel.