BANGKOK – Oil prices fell Thursday after OPEC predicted weak demand for crude next year and critical budget negotiations in Washington reached an apparent impasse.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was down 40 cents to $86.37 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract finished 98 cents higher at $86.77 a barrel in New York on Wednesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced new stimulus measures to help the slow-growing U.S. economy.
But enthusiasm withered as signs emerged from Washington that President Barack Obama and Republican leaders were as far apart as ever on reaching a budget deal before year's end. Without an agreement, hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and government spending cuts will automatically take effect.
That prospect, known as the "fiscal cliff," has the force to throw the U.S. economy into recession, experts say, likely hurting demand for energy.
Meanwhile, at an OPEC meeting Wednesday, ministers agreed to keep their daily crude production target unchanged but failed to reach consensus on a new secretary general. OPEC also predicted less demand for oil next year in part because of weak economic growth.
Analysts at Capital Economics said in an analysis that "two of the few things that OPEC members can agree on are that the oil market is currently well supplied and that demand for the group's crude will fall next year as non-OPEC production increases further." Ample supplies and weak demand are two key factors that have kept oil prices in check in recent weeks.
Separately, the American Petroleum Institute said U.S. crude oil stocks rose nearly 4.3 million barrels in the week ending Dec. 7.
Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 46 cents to $107.56 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Heating oil was steady at $2.967 a gallon.
— Natural gas fell 1.1 cent to $3.371 per 1,000 cubic feet.
— Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $2.637 a gallon.
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