Oil prices fell below $45 a barrel Friday in reaction to news that a $14 billion emergency bailout for U.S. automakers had collapsed in the Senate, raising more fears for the U.S. economy.
The decline came after a strong rally in the previous session and traders said expectations of a significant production cut by OPEC would help keep a floor under prices.
By midday in Europe, light, sweet crude for January delivery was down $3.10 to $44.88 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Overnight, the contract surged $4.46, or 10 percent, to settle at $47.98.
David Moore, commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney, said comments by Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi on Thursday that November production by the world's largest exporter was in line with OPEC's recently lowered targets indicated it was serious about output cuts.
"There are expectations that OPEC will move to tighten supplies," Moore said. "Oil prices softened this morning but well within the range we saw last night (despite) worries about falling consumption because of economic weakness."
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for about 40 percent of global crude supply, has signaled it plans to reduce output quotas at a meeting Dec. 17 in Algeria.
Many analysts expect a production cut of as much as 2 million barrels a day, which would match the combined reductions of two previous output cuts earlier this year.
But they say the success of any production cuts in stabilizing oil price will depend on how closely OPEC members comply. OPEC's overall November production was well above quotas agreed to by member states, according to Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
Victor Shum, energy analyst at consultancy Purvin & Gertz in Singapore, said oil prices were adjusting Friday to what was seen as an "overdone" rally. Weaker stock markets across Asia also pressured prices, he said.
"The biggest factor is still the expectation that OPEC will make substantial production cut next week, with coordination from Russia," he said.
Russia has said it plans to coordinate production levels with other non-OPEC producers. On Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested that Russia is ready to work with OPEC.
"Both the Russian government and Russian producers have a common interest in higher prices and this is increasing the chance of a coordinated effort to curb supplies," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland.
Oil's rally overnight was boosted by a falling dollar, which makes commodities like oil more attractive. It outweighed a warning from the International Energy Agency that energy demand will shrink this year for the first time since 1983.
In the report Thursday, the Paris-based IEA cut its forecast for global oil demand in 2008 by 350,000 barrels a day to 85.8 million barrels a day, down 0.2 percent from 2007. It also said 2009 demand would increase by just 0.5 percent to 86.3 million barrels a day. That's 200,000 barrels a day less than its estimate last month.
Oil prices have fallen 70 percent since peaking at $147.27 in July. After hitting $40.50 a barrel last week, some oil traders believe that if the market has not bottomed out, it is close to doing so.
In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures fell 3.28 cents to $1.0458 a gallon. Heating oil dipped 4.7 cents to $1.4596 a gallon and natural gas for January delivery lost 10.5 cents to $5.493 per 1,000 cubic feet.