NEW YORK - Crude-oil prices fell 1.2% to a fourth-consecutive 2012 low at $92.81 a barrel Wednesday, as U.S. crude inventories stood at a 22-year high.
Crude-oil inventories in the world's largest oil consumer have gained more than 10% over the past eight weeks and are at the highest level since August 1990.
"We don't have physical [supply] tightness to limit the downside," said Tim Evans, analyst at Citi Futures Perspective. Crude is "not going to go up until disappointed bulls are done liquidating long positions," he said.
Some analysts have said technical charts show a break below $92.50 a barrel could clear a path to $85 a barrel, last hit in October 2011.
U.S. benchmark crude prices have fallen 12.6% or more than $13 a barrel in the past two weeks on rising inventories.
Light, sweet crude oil for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled $1.17 lower, at $92.81 a barrel. The settlement was $1 above the session low, which was hit overnight after the American Petroleum Institute said crude-oil stocks rose 6.6 million barrels in the latest week. That was well beyond analysts' expectations of a 1.4-million-barrel rise.
But the more widely watched government data released midmorning by the Energy Information Administration showed a more moderate rise of 2.1 million barrels. Still, prices held much of their decline.
June ICE Brent crude expired at the settlement, down 53 cents, at $111.71 a barrel. The July contract settled $1.70 lower, at $109.75 a barrel.
Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, said he expects July Brent to soon hit $105 a barrel, the weakest price since December, as an operational change on a key U.S. pipeline adds pressure on prices.
Stocks at Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for the U.S. benchmark futures contract, are at record highs, ahead of the imminent reversal of the Seaway pipeline, which will move oil out of the Midwest to the key Gulf Coast refining region, where it can compete with Brent and other crudes that are priced against Brent, the global benchmark.
Oil prices have been under severe pressure as Saudi Arabia and others in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries have cranked up output to cover potential losses of Iranian oil supplies ahead of a July 1 European Union embargo on Iranian oil imports. Worries about economic turmoil in Greece and the potential for disarray throughout Europe also has undermined prices.
OPEC officials have said they want to drive the international price of oil down to $100 a barrel as there are worries over potential demand destruction.
The EIA said distillate stocks (diesel/heating oil) fell 969,000 barrels, compared with expectations of a 200,000 barrel drop. Gasoline stocks fell 2.8 million barrels, far more than the expected 300,000-barrel decline.
Reformulated-gasoline-blendstock futures for June delivery settled 2.32 cents lower, at $2.9209 a gallon, the lowest price since Feb. 3. Gasoline futures have dropped 10.3 cents in the last five days and have fallen more than 20 cents, with losses in 10 of 12 trading days, so far this month.
June heating oil settled 3.54 cents lower, at $2.8976 a gallon, the lowest since Dec. 28.