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US crude oil settled below $50 a barrel for the first time since early December as concerns grow over swelling supplies.

West Texas Intermediate settled on Thursday down $1, or 2 per cent, at $49.28 a barrel. The benchmark has not settled south of the $50 mark since December 7, according to Bloomberg data. WTI has slid 7.6 per cent since the end of last week.

The selling has come as US crude oil inventories continue to push upwards, striking a record high last week, according to energy department data.

Investors are increasingly anxious that US shale companies may begin to drill more rapidly with the oil price stable around $50, denting the usefulness of production cuts agreed to among Opec producers and other major exporters, like Russia.

Brent crude, the global standard, was also down on Thursday, recently falling 1.9 per cent to $52.10 a barrel.

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