By Scott DiSavino
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Monday as a rebound in Libyan oil output weighed against upbeat economic data from Asia that pointed to strong energy demand from the region.
Benchmark Brent <LCOM7> futures for June delivery lost 41 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $53.12 a barrel. That, however, was up 29 cents from Friday's close when May was still the front-month <LCOc1>, making it the highest close for the contract in nearly four weeks.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude <CLc1>, meanwhile, declined 36 cents, or 0.7 percent to settle at $50.24 per barrel.
Traders noted both U.S. and Brent futures retreated in intraday trade after failing to rise much above their 100-day moving averages, a technical resistance level.
Libya's Sharara oil field, the country's largest, resumed production on Sunday after a week-long disruption. State-owned NOC lifted force majeure on loadings of Sharara crude on Monday, sources told Reuters.
The field was producing around 120,000 barrels per day (bpd) on Monday and about 220,000 bpd prior to the March 27 shutdown.
"The main development over the weekend is the restart of Sharara," managing director of PetroMatrix Olivier Jakob said.
Uncertainty about Libyan output added volatility to oil prices, he said, calling it "a swing factor that can make it move both ways if one looks at the balances for the second half of the year."
Also pressuring oil prices, energy services firm Baker Hughes said the U.S. rig count rose last week, making the first quarter the strongest for rig additions since mid-2011. [RIG/U]
Still, data from Asia suggested solid energy demand going forward.
Manufacturing data showed factories across much of Asia posted another month of solid growth in March. Purchasing managers' index (PMI) data from China showed its factories expanded for a ninth straight month.
"The global economy remains on track for continuing growth in 2017, a support for the demand side of the petroleum market," Tim Evans, Citi Futures' energy futures specialist, said in a note.
Last week, oil prices rallied for three days on reduced Libyan output and expectations that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers would extend production cuts beyond June.
But in a sign of investor caution, hedge funds and money managers have been cutting net long positions, data released by the Intercontinental Exchange and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed. [O/ICE]
"Excess speculative froth has been taken off the market in allowing fresh buying interest to be more impactful," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Chicago-based energy advisory firm Ritterbusch & Associates.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Keith Wallis in Singapore; Editing by David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama)