The price of oil edged lower Tuesday as investors wait to see whether or not the U.S. Federal Reserve will decide to start reducing its monetary stimulus this week.
Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery slipped 26 cents to $97.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Some investors expect the Fed to start scaling back its $85 billion in asset purchases following the conclusion of its two-day meeting Wednesday, in light of some recent solid data on the U.S. economy. Such a pullback may result in the dollar strengthening, making commodities priced in dollars more costly for overseas investors.
Others expect the Fed to wait until next year before tapering its stimulus program.
Markets are also monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.
Data for the week ending Dec. 12 are expected to show a draw of 4 million barrels in crude oil stocks and a build of 1.4 million 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.
At the gas pump, the average price for a gallon of gas slipped to $3.22. That's down 4 cents from a week ago and 3 cents less than at this time last year.
In London, the February contract for Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, dropped 97 cents to 108.44 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline was flat at $2.65 a gallon.
— Heating oil lost 3 cents to $2.96 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 1 cent to $4.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.