Oil fell below $85 a barrel Thursday on expectations of just a small rise in global demand for crude in 2013 and as signs of slowing global economic growth offset hopes that central banks will soon implement stimulus measures.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for August delivery was down $1.26 at $84.55 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude rose $1.90 to settle at $85.81 on Wednesday in New York.
In London, Brent crude for August delivery was down $1.22 at $99.01 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Crude has plummeted from $106 in May amid expectations that a global slowdown led by Europe, the U.S. and China will undermine oil demand.
Some analysts expect crude prices to recover in the second half of the year as policymakers use fiscal and monetary stimulus to boost economic growth and fuel consumer demand. In minutes of its last meeting that were released Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve did not suggest it plans to ease monetary policy soon.
Other analysts say investor pessimism about Europe's debt crisis is well-founded and commodity prices will likely languish during the next six months.
"We continue to expect the problems in Europe to escalate," said Julian Jessop, chief global economist with Capital Economics. "While extra global policy support should mean that commodity demand is higher than it would otherwise have been, it should still be sluggish, maintaining the downward pressure on prices."
Jessop said he expects Brent crude to trade between $70 and $100 in the second half.
The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, forecast global oil demand to rise by 1 million barrels a day in 2013, to a daily average of 90.9 million barrels.
"The predicted ... growth rate for 2013 is unmistakably an acceleration, albeit a very modest one," the Paris-bases IEA said in its latest monthly oil market report released Thursday. "Underpinning the predicted uptick in growth in 2013 is a combination of the strengthening economic backdrop and mildly lower oil prices."
At the same time, the IEA noted the possibility of higher prices on the back of "the latent potential of emerging market demand growth and ongoing risk of nasty supply surprises."
For 2012, the IEA kept its demand forecast steady at 89.9 million barrels a day.
A sharp drop in U.S. crude supplies, suggesting demand may be improving, has helped support oil prices. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that crude inventories fell 4.7 million barrels last week, three times the drop expected by analysts.
The lower crude stockpiles were due mostly to "lower imports and a significant rise in refinery utilization, which is hardly surprising given the relatively low stocks of refined petroleum products," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "Market players are likely to focus increasing attention on the development of stocks in the coming months, for this is an indication of whether the marked oversupply on the oil market from the first half of the year is declining."
In other energy trading, heating oil was down 4.55 cents at $2.7163 per gallon and gasoline futures fell 2.37 cents to $2.7452 per gallon. Natural gas slid 1.5 cents to $2.838 per 1,000 cubic feet.