VIENNA -- Oil prices fell to their lowest level in six weeks yesterday, dropping nearly $2 a barrel after the International Energy Agency forecast slower growth in oil demand this year.
Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell $1.85 to settled at $51.86 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where unleaded gasoline futures fell 1.6 cents to close at $1.5338 a gallon. Heating oil futures declined by 2.18 cents to $1.4653 per gallon.
On the International Petroleum Exchange in London, Brent crude fell $1.23 to $51.98 a barrel.
Oil prices are more than $6 below the intraday high set last week, though they remain 37 percent higher than a year ago.
In its report, the Paris-based IEA suggested that rising US interest rates and energy costs would reduce world hunger for oil this year.
It lowered its estimate for world oil demand growth by 50,000 barrels a day to 1.77 million barrels a day, while forecasting average demand at 84.27 million barrels a day -- slightly lower than the previous figure.
It also said that government measures in Asia -- and Chinese oil demand growth that was only half of estimates last year -- also would act as a brake on the market.
''Fears of a surge in second-quarter Chinese demand are receding," the IEA said, noting that China's oil demand growth was significantly lower in first two months of the year.