BANGKOK – The price of U.S. benchmark oil fell slightly Tuesday, a day after briefly touching a nine-month high, as traders awaited the start of a Federal Reserve policy meeting.
Benchmark oil for July delivery dropped 19 cents to $97.58 per barrel at late afternoon Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Monday, the contract fell slightly after it climbed to $98.74, its highest level since mid-September, as stock and commodity markets wait for Fed policymakers to meet this week.
To help support the U.S. economic recovery, the Fed buys $85 billion in bonds every month, which pumps money into the financial system and makes loans more available and affordable by lowering interest rates.
The Fed concludes a two-day policy meeting Wednesday with a news conference by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. Investors want to know if the Fed will stay the course — or pull back on its loose-money policies in light of recent data suggesting an improving U.S. economy. Markets have gyrated sharply in recent weeks over the uncertainty.
Traders are largely hoping the Fed will maintain its policy of ultra-low interest rates, which has made riskier assets like stocks and oil more attractive than low-yielding bonds.
Bernanke's ability to communicate effectively the Fed's strategy is crucial to determine whether market volatility persists, analysts said.
"Calm has settled over markets as anticipation builds," Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary. "It's worth reiterating that effective Fed communication is the key to ensure that this calm continues otherwise market volatility will quite easily return."
Concern that the conflict in Syria could spread and disrupt oil supplies from key producing countries has boosted oil in recent days.
Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 24 cents to $105.23 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.1 cent to $2.8549 a gallon.
— Heating oil dropped 0.9 cent to $2.9415 per gallon.
— Natural gas advanced 2 cent to $3.90 per 1,000 cubic feet.