VIENNA, Austria – Crude oil futures fell Tuesday after moving above $47 a barrel in intraday trading.
December delivery crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search) dropped 76 cents to $46.11 per barrel. The benchmark light, sweet crude (search) remained about $8 a barrel cheaper than its closing record of $55.17 recorded Oct. 22 and Oct. 26.
Heating oil was down 1.41 cents, after rising earlier in the session.
"Heating oil is extraordinarily tight and demand for the stuff is increasing on the seasonal basis as we speak," said Jan Stuart, head of energy research at FIMAT USA, a brokerage unit of Societe Generale.
He predicted "plenty of opportunity for spiking up" in the coming weeks and months.
Viktor Schum, oil analyst at Texas-based energy consultants Purvin & Gertz, also said that "the question remains on heating oil."
"Market participants would feel more comfortable with an uptake on heating oil inventory, so the U.S. won't be caught in a tight situation," he said.
In London, Brent crude for January delivery fell 75 cents on the International Petroleum Exchange (search) to $42.29.
While crude futures are about 40 percent higher than a year ago, they would have to reach $90 per barrel to meet the inflation-adjusted peak set in 1980.
Commercially available crude supplies have been growing for nearly two months, according to the U.S. Energy Department, and traders expect the agency's Wednesday report to show another increase.
But the market remains cautious over the supply of distillates, which have fallen for eight straight weeks in the United States and have been mirrored by dwindling stocks in Western Europe and Japan — where kerosene, its main winter heating fuel, remains 10 percent below year-ago levels. Distillate stocks include heating oil, jet fuel and diesel.
One concern has been China. New statistics released this week show its increased energy needs over the past year, with a government agency saying the country's oil imports were projected to jump by nearly 10 percent this year to 700 million barrels.
Markets have been tense in recent months due to the world's limited excess production capacity, now only around 1 percent above the daily consumption of 82.4 million barrels, leaving little room to maneuver in the event of a production outage.
Still, there has been some good news for markets. On Monday, unions in Nigeria, the world's seventh-largest exporter, agreed to suspend plans for a general strike after the government agreed to review domestic fuel prices. Unions had threatened to hamper Nigeria's daily output of 2.5 million barrels.