Oil market dogged by US 'fiscal cliff' woes

Oil prices edged lower in light Christmas Eve trade on Monday, amid worry about a stalemate in talks to resolve the US "fiscal cliff" crisis.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery, slipped five cents to settle at $88.61 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery held steady at Friday's level of $108.97 a barrel in London trade.

"The market is still concerned about the fiscal cliff and whether when Congress returns from the Christmas vacation, it will get anything done," said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates.

Washington has until the end of the year to reach a compromise and avert the so-called fiscal cliff -- a mix of steep tax hikes and drastic spending cuts set to take effect in January that experts say could sink the world's biggest economy back into recession. And that, in turn, could hurt oil demand in the world's biggest consumer of crude.

President Barack Obama and Congress are currently on their Christmas break and are not expected back in town until later this week, leaving little time to bridge differences and broker a deal.

As they left town, Democratic and Republican leaders traded blame for the impasse, further souring market sentiment.

With markets on a holiday schedule due to Christmas, trading was light, leaving traders little else to digest than the "fiscal cliff."

There was "really no other news that has been driving the market," Lipow said.

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