Oil prices fell below $82 a barrel Friday in Asia as traders remain cautious ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting and U.S. midterm elections.
Benchmark oil for December delivery was down 59 cents at $81.59 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 24 cents to settle at $82.18 on Thursday.
Crude has loitered near $82 this week, matching bobbing stock and currency markets, as traders wait to see how big the Fed's Treasury bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing, will be to help spur economic growth.
Commodities have gained in recent weeks in anticipation the Fed measures will undermine the dollar further and make dollar-based assets cheaper for investors with other currencies. But the Fed must temper its desire to boost the economy with concern that higher commodity prices would spark inflation and eat away at corporate profits.
"Too aggressive a course of quantitative easing would launch commodities prices ever higher," Cameron Hanover said in a report. "Corporate profits had been one of the bright spots in an otherwise anemic economic recovery."
"Almost everything depends on what the Fed does next Wednesday."
Traders will also be closely watching Friday reports about U.S. economic growth, consumer sentiment and manufacturing.
Some analysts expect the Fed's move will push oil prices higher despite sluggish U.S. demand. Citigroup raised its three-month forecast to $85 from $74 and its 12-month estimate to $90 from $83.
"The prospect of quantitative easing, and the associated risk rally and dollar weakness, should support prices despite the downward pressure instigated by very high U.S. inventories," Citigroup said.
In other Nymex trading in November contracts, heating oil fell 1.35 cents to $2.230 a gallon and gasoline dropped 1.64 cents to $2.098 a gallon. Natural gas slid 1.1 cents to $3.879 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude fell 37 cents to $83.22 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.