09/05/2012 08:22 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST

Oil prices slip ahead of ECB meeting; concern mounts over slowing economies

The price of oil fell slightly as the market awaited the latest move by Europe's central bank to ease the debt crisis that has hamstrung the region's economy.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude slipped four cents to US$95.26 a barrel in afternoon trading in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties, fell 56 cents to US$113.62 a barrel in London.

Weak manufacturing reports earlier in the week from China and the United States, as well as Europe's dire economic picture, weighed on trader sentiment. But that was countered by hope for measures from central banks and governments to promote global economic growth, which could translate into more demand for energy products.

Traders are awaiting two key developments later this week.

The European Central Bank is expected to announce a bond-buying program Thursday to reduce high borrowing costs in Spain and Italy. The program is designed to help stabilize the region's financial crisis and promote growth.

Analysts say oil prices likely will fall without additional aid for the European economy because that would heighten concerns about a Europe-wide recession, Tradition Energy oil analyst Gene McGillian said.

He speculated that the price could drop into the mid-US$80 a barrel range. Oil's low for the year was US$77.69 in late June.

Traders were also awaiting the U.S. non-farm jobs report, which is due out Friday. It should offer fresh clues about where the economy is headed.

In other futures trading in New York, heating oil fell three cents to US$3.12 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), wholesale gasoline was unchanged at US$2.96 a gallon and natural gas fell five cents to US$2.81 per 1,000 cubic feet.