05/21/2013 09:58 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Price of oil eases ahead of release of Fed minutes, Bernanke testimony

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The price of oil fell Tuesday as investors waited for the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest views on the American economy.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for June delivery dropped 55 cents to US$96.16 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Wednesday, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke will appear before Congress and the central bank will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting. Traders will be looking for hints on what the Fed might be preparing to do in light of recent data that has pointed toward a sustained economic recovery.

There is speculation that the Fed might want to scale back or modify its loose monetary policy and its $85-billion a month in bond purchases intended to keep interest rates low and prop up the recovery.

Investors will also be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ended May 17 is expected to show declines of 1.2 million barrels in crude oil stocks and of 200,000 barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill.

The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.

Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 89 cents to US$103.91 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline fell six cents to US$2.85 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), heating oil lost two cents to US$2.93 a gallon and natural gas added 10 cents to US$4.19 per 1,000 cubic feet.