Brent slips toward $110 as US fiscal cliff deadline draws near
* Jitters about looming U.S. budget deadline cap oil prices
* Brent set to average above $111/bbl in 2012, vs $110.91 last year
* U.S. crude 2012 average at $94/bbl, down from $95.11 in 2011
SINGAPORE, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Oil slipped on Monday for a third straight session, with Brent holding above $110 per barrel, on worries the United States may not reach a deal by Jan. 1 to prevent a fiscal crisis that could erode fuel demand at the world's largest oil consumer.
Democrats and Republicans remained at loggerheads on Sunday over a deal that would prevent the United States from tumbling over a "fiscal cliff" of sharp spending cuts and higher taxes for all Americans.
While analysts are optimistic there will be a breakthrough in U.S. talks, the lack of a deal yet with the deadline just a day away is keeping a ceiling on prices of riskier assets.
Brent crude fell 30 cents to $110.32 a barrel by 0234 GMT after hitting a low of $110.08 earlier in the session. U.S. crude was at $90.59, down 21 cents.
Brent is headed for a fourth straight yearly gain and set to log a record high annual average settlement price, while U.S. crude was on track for a drop this year after three consecutive annual gains.
"The market is nervous about it," said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive officer at Barratt's Bulletin, a Sydney-based research firm, referring to the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff. But "at the end of the day a deal would be done," he said.
He added that the optimism has kept Brent trading at the top of a price range between $100 and $110 a barrel.
The next hurdle for the U.S. government would be to raise its debt ceiling in the next few weeks to avert a default that may lead to another credit downgrade and cause panic in the financial markets.
In China, the world's second-largest economy, factory activity expanded at its fastest rate in December since May 2011, reinforcing signs of a steady recovery.
HIGHEST AVERAGE BRENT PRICE EVER
Front-month Brent is set to log a record high average settlement price at more than $111 a barrel this year. Supply worries stemming from Middle East tensions and disruptions in the North Sea have helped oil prices shrug off headwinds from a global economic slowdown that has cut oil demand.
Brent hit a high of $128.40 a barrel in March and slipped to a low of $88.49 in June.
Slow economic growth and ample supplies are expected to keep a lid on oil next year with crude prices gradually slipping lower. Brent crude will average at $108 a barrel in 2013, a Reuters monthly survey of 26 analysts showed.
The United States is pumping the most oil in 19 years after shale oil discovery pushed production to nearly 7 million barrels per day while its crude imports slipped to the lowest in 12 years, government data showed.
World's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia expects production hikes by other oil producers to weigh on energy prices in 2013, potentially cutting into the country's fiscal surplus.
But geopolitical tensions in the Middle East are expected to underpin oil prices.
On Friday, Iran started six days of naval drills in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil and gas shipping route, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Iran has previously threatened to disrupt or close the waterway if its nuclear sites are subjected to military attack by Israel or the United States.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)