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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oil Hugs $50 Ahead of Vote as Fears Ease

SINGAPORE -- Crude oil futures hugged the $50 mark Tuesday, as concerns continued to ease over heating oil supplies for the Northern Hemisphere winter ahead of the U.S. presidential vote.

With a few hours before voting begins in earnest, traders moved into a holding pattern -- watching for signs as to which candidate held the upper hand in the race for the White House that could swing prices either way.

December crude sank 19 cents from Monday's closing on the New York Mercantile Exchange to sit at $49.95 in after-hours electronic trading mid-afternoon in Asia on Tuesday.

The price retreated more than a dollar on Monday and at least 10 percent since its record intraday high of $55.67 on Oct. 25. Brent crude for December delivery was unchanged at $47.06 Tuesday.

Prices continued their downward trend despite possible strike action in Africa's largest producer, Nigeria, and a new setback for Russian oil giant Yukos.

While crude prices are still up by more than 70 percent from a year ago, they would need to surpass $90 per barrel to approximate the all-time high, in inflation-adjusted terms, set in 1980.

A record Nymex closing price of $55.17 per barrel was reached Oct. 22 and matched four days later.

Analysts and traders monitored the White House race, with incumbent Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry offering up differing views on how to use Washington's massive oil reserves.

Kerry has long urged Bush to make reserves available to cool prices. In 2001, Bush ordered the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- in underground caverns in Texas and Louisiana -- stockpiled to 700 million barrels. It is currently at 670 million and Kerry has said he had plans to stop filling the reserve -- a catalyst for price movements in a time of high demand.

Traders were also waiting for Wednesday's U.S. Energy Department's petroleum stocks report that could see crude stocks build for a sixth straight week.

Last week, oil prices fell from record closing prices on Nymex after the Energy Department said U.S. crude supplies had increased by 4 million barrels to 283.4 million barrels -- roughly double what Wall Street was expecting.

"There might be some price bouncing around after the [U.S. presidential] results are released, but supply and demand fundamentals are what's driving prices at the moment," Dow Jones Newswires quoted World Markets Research Centre analyst Simon Wardell as saying.

Unrest and uncertainty in key producers Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela have also kept traders on edge.

In Russia, tax authorities raised Yukos' total bill to more than $17.6 billion, Interfax reported Monday, again putting its daily output of around 2 million barrels in jeopardy.