Oil drops as US 'fiscal cliff' approaches

Friday, December 21, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 51
PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Oil prices fell as much as $2 a barrel Friday as doubts grew about whether political leaders in Washington could reach a deal on the budget before a package of tax hikes and spending cuts automatically kicks in with the new year.

If Republicans and Democrats don't work out a compromise in the next 10 days, the U.S. could go over the so-called "fiscal cliff," a reference to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and government spending cuts that take effect if a budget deal is not reached. Many economists fear that would eventually push the U.S. back into recession, a situation that would likely mean less energy demand.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell $1.47 to finish at $88.66 per barrel in New York, the contract's lowest point in three weeks. It dropped to $87.96 per barrel at one point Friday.

Late Thursday House Republicans abruptly put off a vote on an alternative plan offered by House Speaker John Boehner that would prevent scheduled tax increases from taking effect on Jan. 1 on all income under $1 million. President Barack Obama wants the cutoff point to be $400,000.

On Friday both signaled that talks are still open.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell $1.23 to end at $108.97 per barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:

— Natural gas lost a penny to finish at $3.45 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 4 cents to end at $3.02 a gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to finish at $2.73 a gallon.