The price of oil fell to near $96 per barrel Tuesday as investors waited for the Federal Reserve's latest views on the U.S. economy.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for June delivery was down 60 cents to $96.11 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 69 cents to close at $96.71 on Monday.
On Wednesday, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke will appear before Congress and the central bank will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting. Traders will be looking for hints on what the Fed might be preparing to do in light of recent data that has pointed toward a sustained economic recovery.
There is ongoing speculation that the Fed might want to scale back or modify its super-loose monetary policy and its massive, $85 billion-a-month program of bond purchases intended to keep interest rates low and prop up the recovery.
"We hear some testimony from Big Ben Bernanke this week and we can only think that he's going to stick to his mantra. Meaning that he's status quo; the economy is moving along well, we would like to see it move faster, but we're doing all we can," said Carl Larry of Oil Outlooks and Opinions in an email commentary.
Investors will also be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.
Data for the week ending May 17 is expected to show draws of 1.2 million barrels in crude oil stocks and of 200,000 barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.
Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, was down 76 cents to $104.04 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.9 cents to $2.8634 a gallon.
— Heating oil lost 1.28 cents to $2.9283 a gallon.
— Natural gas added 3 cents to $4.12 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.