Oil prices slipped due to profit-taking in Asian trade today following a recent rally, while the return of Libyan crude boosted supplies and dented demand.

New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for February delivery, was down seven cents at $92.52 a barrel in the afternoon trade, while Brent North Sea crude for February dropped 17 cents to $106.22.

WTI was boosted in US trade yesterday by the data showing that December retail sales rose 0.2 per cent in December, beating expectations that there would be no change. Retail sales are part of the consumer spending that is the prime driver of the world’s biggest economy.

US crude inventories

Analysts said investors were waiting for today’s weekly report on US oil inventories, a closely watched barometer of US demand.

Analysts forecast a decline of 800,000 barrels of crude, according to a survey by the Wall Street Journal, which would indicate strong demand.

Libyan oil production

European benchmark Brent oil remains under pressure from the partial restoration of Libyan oil production, which analysts say is back to about 650,000 barrels a day after falling as low as 250,000 owing to political protests.

A week-end agreement between Iran and major powers on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions also hit prices.

An easing of sanctions as a result of the accord could enable higher crude output from Iran, a member of the OPEC oil cartel.

“Crude oil prices had trimmed significantly recently due to easing of geopolitical tensions in Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),” Phillip Futures said in a market commentary.