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BENGALURU: Oil prices were steady on Tuesday after dropping close to a three-week low, drawing support from a weakening dollar and on data showing demand for US crude and petroleum products rose in November.

Although the front-month Brent futures contract was down 37 cents to $84.53 a barrel in low volumes, the more actively traded April Brent futures rose by 89 cents, or 1.1%, to $85.39 by 12:47 p.m. EST (1747 GMT).

US WTI crude rose 92 cents, or 1.2%, to $78.82 a barrel.

More volatility on the day of expiration kept the front-month contract under pressure as traders closed positions, said Mizuho analyst Robert Yawger. During the session, front-month Brent and WTI futures touched their lowest in almost three weeks as traders worried about prospects for further interest rate increases and abundant flows of Russian crude.

The Brent April futures and US front-month WTI gained after the US Energy Information Administration reported demand for US crude and petroleum products rose 178,000 barrels per day (bpd) in November to 20.59 million bpd, the highest since August.

Crude benchmarks were also supported by a weaker US dollar, said UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo. This makes dollar-denominated crude cheaper for foreign buyers.

The dollar index turned negative after US data showed labor costs increased at their slowest pace in a year in the fourth quarter as wage growth slowed, bolstering expectations of the Fed slowing its interest rate increases.

Investors expect the Fed to raise rates by 25 basis points on Wednesday, with increases of half a percentage point by the Bank of England and European Central Bank the following day.

An OPEC panel is likely to recommend keeping the group’s output policy unchanged when it meets at 1300 GMT on Wednesday, delegates told Reuters on Monday. However, Tuesday’s weakness in front-month Brent prices may spark concern in the group, Yawger said. This widened the contango in the market, which occurs when futures prices show a commodity’s price is expected to be much higher in the future.

A Reuters survey shows 49 economists and analysts expect Brent crude to average more than $90 a barrel this year, the first upward revision since a poll in October, with gains likely driven by demand from top consumer China.

Separately, US crude oil stockpiles are likely to have risen last week, a Reuters poll showed ahead of an American Petroleum Institute report due at 4:30 p.m. ET (2130 GMT) on Tuesday.

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