The price of oil slipped closer to $93 a barrel on Thursday, pressured by another expected rise in U.S. crude stocks.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for December delivery was down 51 cents to $93.37 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 84 cents to close at $93.88 on Wednesday.
Investors are awaiting testimony by incoming Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen for clues about when the U.S. will cut back, or taper, its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases that have kept interest rates low to support economic recovery.
Yellen, who is set to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman at the end of January, will testify before the Senate banking committee later Thursday. In published introductory remarks, she indicated that the Fed's stimulus should continue until the world's No.1 economy show continued signs of improvement.
The U.S. Nymex benchmark is down by about 8 percent in the past month. Traders say further declines are likely, as U.S. crude output keeps rising. Data from the Energy Department showed that in October, for the first time since 1995, the U.S. produced more crude oil than it imported — 7.7 million barrels a day against 7.6 million barrels a day.
"This is a trend that is likely to continue next year — crude oil production looks set to grow to 8.9 million barrels per day by the end of 2014, while crude oil imports are expected to drop to 5.8 million barrels per day," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in a note to clients.
U.S. crude stockpiles data for the week ended Nov. 8, due later Thursday, are expected to show an increase of 1.8 million barrels, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. It would the eighth week in a row that stockpiles have risen.
After protests and disruptions at refineries in Libya, a vital supplier to Europe, Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 72 cents to $107.84 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London. The International Energy Agency's latest monthly report on the oil market said the production problems in Libya and other countries like Iraq "continue to relentlessly fester" and could provide support to oil prices in the coming months.
At the same time, however, the Paris-based IEA noted the recent fall in oil prices was partially due to a seasonal drop in demand. "The recent easing of prices may be relatively short lived," the IEA's November report said, envisaging rising demand from both consumers and refineries. "Given proverbial uncertainties about the weather and geopolitics, the market might not be at the end of its roller coaster ride."
In other energy futures trading on Nymex: — Wholesale gasoline added 1.45 cents to $2.6276 a gallon. — Heating oil shed 0.39 cent to $2.8938 a gallon. — Natural gas fell 4.7 cents to $3.519 per 1,000 cubic feet.