Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices were lower early Monday just ahead of a holiday-shortened regular session expected to be marked by light trading as many investors will be absent.
As of 8:10 a.m. West Texas Intermediate crude oil future prices fell 1.5 percent to $44.91 per barrel while Brent crude oil future fell 0.8 percent to $53.68 per barrel as of the same time.
"The price action suggests the hedge and commodity funds may be on the sidelines ahead of Tuesday's Christmas holiday. This could lead to a tight trading range and extremely low volume," analyst James Hyerczyk wrote in a report.
The lower trading volume may also lead to more volatility.
"We also have to be on the lookout for exaggerated price swings due to rogue traders trying to take advantage of the trading conditions," Hyerczyk added.
WTI is approaching lows last seen in the middle of 2017. Current levels are more than 40 percent below an early October high for the year.
WTI prices fell in recent days below the psychologically important barrier of $50 per barrel in recent days, and declined fast after that.
Crude oil prices have declined since October on concern that the market may be oversupplied in a context where production in the United States, which earlier this year became the biggest producer in the world, is seeing a fast expansion.
In addition, there are also worries that future economic growth may slow in part due to trade disputes and because of stronger U.S. interest rates making not just borrowing more expensive but also boosting the value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies. Crude oil futures, which are dollar denominated, can become more expensive elsewhere in the world if the greenback strengthens.
The possibly slower economic growth ahead could mean reduced crude oil demand.
The regular trading session will close at 1:30 p.m. EST. There will be no trading on Tuesday for Christmas holiday.