The price of Brent crude oil steadied at just under $56 a barrel today after factory activity in China fell to an 11-month low, and Saudi Arabia reported its production to be close to an all-time high.

Reuters reported that Brent futures had fallen 20 cents to $55.72, while US crude dropped 31 cents to $47.14 a barrel.

The flash HSBC / Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) dipped to 49.2 in March, below the 50-point level that separates growth in activity.

"We expect crude prices to be pressured once again."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said it is pumping approximately 10 million barrels of crude per day, some 350,000bpd above the figure it gave OPEC for its February production.

Energy consultancy FGE estimates a global surplus of two million barrels per day between April and June.

FGE said in a note: "We expect crude prices to be pressured once again."

A preliminary survey by Reuters revealed that US crude stocks were estimated to have increased for an 11th record-breaking week.

Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA ) showed that storage at the Cushing, Oklahoma oil hub, delivery point of the U.S. contract, reached a new record.