Updated from 1:43 p.m. EST
Oil prices made another failed run at $50 a barrel Tuesday with traders already focusing on the release of key weekly inventory data Wednesday.
The January futures contract closed 63 cents lower at $49.13, having broken through the $50 level early in the session. Prices also hit $50 last week only to fall back by the close.
Nevertheless, prices have staged a modest recovery since suffering a steep correction during the first three weeks of November, but remain more than 10% off their record closing high of $55.17 touched in late October. Prices experienced a similar decline in July, only to resume their climb and attain new record highs in what has been a year-long rally.
Disruption to output at two fields in the North Sea and more speculation about the possible breakup of Russian oil giant Yukos appear to have had little, if any, impact on trading Tuesday.
The main focus of the market recently has been heating oil supplies ahead of the winter season. The most recent inventory data showed a large gain in U.S. stockpiles. U.S. production in the Gulf of Mexico has been slowly returning to normal after major disruptions from Hurricane Ivan in September.