The price of oil fell below $97 a barrel Wednesday ahead of the release of a report that's expected to confirm crude supplies are still burgeoning.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for May delivery was down 49 cents to $96.70 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 12 cents to finish at $97.19 on Monday, buoyed by strong reports on U.S. auto sales and factory orders.
The market is watching for the latest reports on supplies of oil and petroleum products.
While analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., had forecast a build of 2.5 million barrels in oil supplies last week, the American Petroleum Institute said Tuesday that crude stocks rose by 4.7 million barrels during the week ending March 29.
The report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration -- the market benchmark -- will be out on later Wednesday.
Supplies are already more than 9 percent above year-ago levels, a figure that goes against what would be expected when the economic data out of the U.S. is looking so rosy.
"Equity and commodity markets have drifted significantly apart of late," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "In addition to the cheap liquidity that is prompting investors to buy equities, they are clearly also reshuffling their commodities investments, which would explain the opposing trends."
Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was down 65 cents to $110.04 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:
-- Wholesale gasoline fell 2.79 cents to $3.0129 a gallon.
-- Heating oil lost 1.03 cent to $3.0771 a gallon.
-- Natural gas retreated 0.2 cent to $3.967 per 1,000 cubic feet.