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Oil extends losses as recession fears mount

By Yuka Obayashi

TOKYO, June 23 (Reuters) - Oil prices fell 2% in early trade on Thursday, extending losses from the previous day, as investors worried that aggressive U.S. interest rate hikes could trigger a recession and dent fuel demand.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $2.39, or 2.3%, to $103.80 a barrel by 0031 GMT. Brent crude futures dropped $2.24, or 2.0%, to $109.50 a barrel.

Both benchmarks tumbled around 3% on Wednesday to hit their lowest levels since mid-May.

Investors are continuing to assess how worried they need to be about central banks potentially pushing the world economy into recession as they attempt to curb inflation with interest rate increases.

"Oil markets remained under pressure as investors were concerned that U.S. rate hikes would stall an economic recovery and dampen fuel demand," said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Fujitomi Securities Co Ltd.

"The U.S. and European hedge funds have been selling off their positions ahead of the end of the second quarter, which is also cooling investor sentiment," he said, predicting the WTI could fall below $100 a barrel before the July 4 holiday in the United States.

The Federal Reserve is not trying to engineer a recession to stop inflation but is fully committed to bringing prices under control even if doing so risks an economic downturn, U.S. central bank chief Jerome Powell said on Wednesday.

U.S. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, called on Congress to pass a three-month suspension of the federal gasoline tax to help combat record pump prices and provide temporary relief for American families this summer.

"The news temporarily boosted the oil product prices, but it was later viewed that even if the gasoline tax was suspended, retail prices would remain high, making it difficult to stimulate demand," Fujitomi's Saito said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said its weekly oil data, which was scheduled for release on Thursday, will be delayed due to systems issues until at least next week. (Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Richard Pullin)

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