Oil fell below $74 a barrel on Tuesday, down for the first time in six days on softer Asian shares as renewed concerns over the economic recovery emerged, after reaching a 10-month high a day earlier.
Investors are looking to oil inventories in the United States for direction, with analysts calling for a draw in crude and gasoline stocks and an increase in distillates.
U.S. crude futures for October fell 53 cents to $73.84 a barrel by 0307 GMT, after hitting their highest intraday level since October 21 at $74.81 on Monday. Brent crude shed 52 cents to $73.74.
The drop is probably due to the decline in equities markets today, said Tetsu Emori, a fund manager at Tokyo-based Astmax Co Ltd.
People are waiting for (U.S.) inventory numbers too. Market fundamentals are still weak. While crude stocks may have fallen, those for products are still high. The supply-demand balance is weak.
An initial Reuters poll showed crude inventories for the week ended August 21 fell by 900,000 barrels, much smaller than the unexpected 8.4 million-barrel draw in the week before, as imports stayed low and refinery utilization rose.
But forecasters called for a 200,000-barrel rise in distillate stocks, while gasoline inventories could have also eased by 900,000 barrels, as demand might have improved on late summer vacation driving, which would make it the fifth-straight week of falls.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute will be released at 2030 GMT on Tuesday, while the U.S. government data is due out on Wednesday.
While the race toward $75 over the past week was spurred by the equities rally, with the Dow Jones index <.DJI> also briefly touching 10-month highs on Monday, oil prices were hit by falling Asian stocks on Tuesday.
China's Shanghai stock index <.SSEC> slid more than 3 percent after Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing would keep its monetary policy loose as the economy faces new difficulties, including trouble boosting domestic consumption, while Japan's Nikkei <.N225> lost 0.8 percent.
Commodities markets have closely tracked equities indexes in recent months, as dealers view stocks as a lead indicator of economic performance.
It is too early to say the economy is on a strong footing and it would take another six months to be sure that the recovery is on track, Astmax's Emori said.
He saw $75 as a key resistance level. Over $75, there is no reason to buy under current fundamentals.
Oil and commodities traders will be keeping their eyes on U.S. housing, consumer confidence and retail sales data due later on Tuesday as pointers to the health of the world's biggest economy, following upbeat remarks by the Fed chairman and a surprising rise in home sales late last week.
That news was followed by reports showing new industrial orders in the euro zone rebounded in June and U.S. economic activity improved again in July.
But as Asian shares fell, the dollar eased against the yen as worries returned over the state of U.S. consumer confidence.
(Reporting by Ramthan Hussain; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)