NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil futures were sinking Tuesday as traders held back on buying due to fears of demand destruction as the economy continued to show signs of deterioration and the threat of a U.S. debt default loomed.
West Texas Intermediate light sweet crude oil for September delivery was falling 94 cents to $98.26 and the September Brent crude contract was down 29 cents to $117.65 a barrel on light trading volume.
"Oil traders were worried that a debt showdown could lead to demand destruction initially, so when stocks took a dip, oil rammed things down," said PFGBest senior analyst Phil Flynn, referring to the U.S. debt ceiling debate and mixed economic news that were weighing on the broader markets.
"I think the markets are torn. The markets are nervous to make a commitment one way or another," said Flynn. "There are so many unanswered questions."Stocks dipped despite a slight improvement in consumer confidence in July, as measured by the Conference Board, because Tuesday's economic news also included a 4.5% fall in U.S. home prices in May from a year ago and a falloff in new-home sales for June. Furthermore, a threat of a U.S. credit downgrade loomed as the Democrats and Republicans were in deadlock over a deal to raise the country's debt ceiling by Aug. 2. President Barack Obama, in a televised address late Monday, said a breakdown in talks over raising the country's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit could seriously hurt the U.S. economy. "Even though a weaker dollar should be lending support to crude, the dollar move is more related to a lack of confidence in the currency than the usual flight from it into riskier assets," said Summit Energy analyst Matt Smith. "Equities have now turned lower, and crude is also heading lower for the same reasons -- the economic data and the continued uncertainty in relation to the U.S. debt ceiling." The U.S. dollar was slumping against a basket of currencies of the country's major trading partners, with the dollar index down 0.7% to $73.59.