Oil steadies around $44 ahead of U.S. demand data.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;}.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;}Oil steadied below $44 on Tuesday as the market awaited a report from the U.S. Energy Department for clues on the state of demand in the world's biggest consumer and looked ahead to next week's OPEC meeting.

Crude broke six straight sessions of losses on Monday, jumping 7 percent with a rally in equity markets and after signs key supplier Saudi Arabia would cut supplies to customers.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets on Dec. 17 in Algeria and is widely expected to reduce overall production by 1-1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) as it steps up efforts to halt the steep slide in prices.

U.S. crude for January delivery was up 2 cents at $43.73 a barrel at 0920 GMT, after surging $2.90 to settle at $43.71 a barrel overnight -- a rebound from a 25 percent drop last week that was the biggest weekly fall in 18 years. London Brent crude rose 10 cents to $43.52 a barrel.

"Oil is on a countdown to OPEC now and everyone is expecting them to come up with something big -- probably a cut of 1-1.5 million bpd," said Rob Laughlin, senior oil analyst at brokers MF Global in London. "If OPEC doesn't make a big cut, this market is in trouble."

Stock markets surged on Monday as the U.S. government cobbled together a rescue plan for stricken automakers and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said he would undertake the biggest infrastructure spending since the 1950s.

The White House reviewed a Democratic plan to bail out the "Big Three" automakers with $15 billion of loans.

The rescue plan could offer some relief to investors stunned by the loss of half a million jobs in November, which heightened fears that the U.S. economic downturn was deepening. European stocks were lower in early trade, led down by financials and utilities.

Oil traders were awaiting the release later on Tuesday of the U.S. Energy Department's Short Term Energy Outlook, which was expected to show downgrades in 2009 oil demand estimates.

In a forecast issued last month, the Energy Department said total U.S. oil demand was projected to fall by an additional 250,000 bpd, or 1.3 percent next year, after tumbling 1.1 million bpd, or 5.4 percent, in 2008.

Demand for oil appears to be falling across the rich, developed economies but analysts expect producers to act to stem the collapse in the oil market that has seen prices lose two thirds of their value from a peak above $147 a barrel in July.

Saudi Arabia, which has cited $75 a barrel as a "fair price" for oil, will make bigger supply cuts to some of its Asian and European customers next month.

OPEC has already agreed to cut about 2 million bpd of production to support prices, and members are leaning towards more supply cuts.

The producer cartel will fight hard to keep oil prices from falling below the "flashpoint" level of $40 a barrel, an official with U.S. fund manager BlackRock said on Monday.

But the downward trend for oil prices remains very much intact, SG Commodities Research said in a weekly note:

"$40 a barrel could be difficult to break, but we expect WTI to go lower in the coming months. GDP, oil demand weakness and the crude overhang are much clearer than OPEC cuts so far."