NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude oil futures ended slightly lower Tuesday, with the market frozen ahead of the release of data that may show more growth in already sky-high U.S. oil and fuel inventories.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery settled 13 cents, or 0.2%, lower at $66.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange closed at $65.46 a barrel, down 8 cents, or 0.1%.

The next U.S. inventory data is due out after settlement Tuesday from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, and on Wednesday from the Department of Energy. The data will go a long way toward determining whether last week's surprise increase in oil and gasoline stockpiles was a blip, or the start of a new period of growing surpluses.

Before last Wednesday's data, oil inventories had been falling, leading some market participants to conclude that the recovering U.S. economy was beginning to generate enough new demand to cause supplies to tighten.

That sentiment was quickly replaced by fears of an even bigger glut, sending oil prices spiraling down from above $71 a barrel last Tuesday to just over $66 a barrel by the end of the week. Traders were also concerned by a drop in gasoline demand to its lowest level since Jan. 23.

"That engendered some hand-wringing over where we're going with demand ... but it's only one week's report," said Andy Lebow, senior vice president for energy at MF Global in New York.

Oil inventories are expected to rise by 300,000 barrels, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey of analysts. Gasoline stocks are seen increasing by 800,000 barrels and distillate stocks, including heating oil and diesel, are expected to grow by 1.1 million barrels.

Refiners are counting on stronger demand, either due to a recovering economy or a cold winter that drives up heating oil use, to find a market for the product stockpiles built up over the last year. Refiners are seen reducing their utilization rate by 0.4 percentage point to 85.2% of capacity, but could cut much deeper if demand doesn't pick up soon.

"People anticipate that with the economy [demand] is going to come back, but not during the season when demand [normally] wanes," said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures in Newport Beach, Calif. "There's no real impetus to drive the market higher."

Still, futures have faced strong resistance against falling much lower as well.

Even last week's steep drop failed to crash through the bottom of a trading range between $65 and $75 a barrel that has held for most of the last three months.

Front-month October reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 99 points, or 0.6%, lower at $1.6281 a gallon. October heating oil settled 97 points, or 0.6%, higher at $1.7006 a gallon.


More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:

Nymex Light Crude Oil Close
Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close
Nymex Heating Oil Close
ICE Brent Crude Oil Close
ICE Gas Oil Close


-By Brian Baskin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2453; brian.baskin@dowjones.com