Oil prices sank into negative territory on Tuesday as dealers took profits from a rally earlier in the day to a 10-month high.

U.S. crude oil slipped 62 cents to $73.75 a barrel, down from a peak of $75. Brent crude dropped 96 cents to $73.30 a barrel.

It looks like crude tested the $75 level and failed, said Tom Bentz, a trader with BNP Paribas.

Oil prices shot up in early trading after reports showed improvements in U.S. consumer confidence and home prices -- adding to a string of encouraging economic indicators.

Wall Street stock indexes climbed to their highest levels since October's plunge <.N> on the back of the data, getting further support from news U.S. President Barack Obama renominated Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Oil prices, which have been tracking equities markets closely in recent months, are likely to hold around the current $73 a barrel level next year, according to a Reuters survey of more than 30 analysts.

The analysts raised their consensus forecast for the fifth straight month, on expectations the strength of economic improvement and higher fuel demand would support prices.

The oil market's focus will shift later to weekly U.S. oil inventory data.

Analysts in a Reuters survey forecast a 900,000 barrel drop in U.S. crude inventories. Gasoline inventories were forecast to fall, while middle distillate stocks, including heating oil, were seen increasing.

Last week, U.S. crude stocks posted a big fall as refiners boosted operations and imports dropped sharply to hit their lowest level in 11 months, U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed.

Data from the American Petroleum Institute will be released at 2030 GMT on Tuesday, and the equivalent U.S. government data is due out on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Ramthan Hussain in Singapore and Richard Valdmanis in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)