By Ikuko Kao
Estimates almost half that of 2008 price, expected to rise again in 2010 and 2011 - poll.
Crude oil prices are likely to average $56 a barrel this year, down by nearly half from last year's average.
The consensus forecast of 32 analysts in a Reuters survey, taken Jan. 5-7, showed US crude would average $56.20 a barrel in 2009 and London's Brent crude $54.95, compared with $58.48 and $57.21 respectively in the previous poll in late-December.
Analysts have been forced to lower their oil price assumptions repeatedly since August - just before the global financial crisis entered a more dangerous phase.
International benchmark US crude was valued at about $43 on Thursday from a peak above $147 in July.
The forecast levels showed a slide from 2008 average prices of about $99.7 for US crude and about $98.5 for Brent.
When oil hit the July peaks, analysts expected US oil to average nearly $116 in 2009.
"Oil remains a macroeconomic call for the next couple of years, because the macro environment will drive both oil fundamentals and financial flows," said Mike Wittner, Societe Generale's global head of oil research.
All analysts in the survey expected oil prices to rise in 2010 and 2011 along with an expected eventual recovery for the global economy.
The consensus forecasts were on average about $73 for US crude in 2010 and $86 in 2011.
Barclays Capital was based on the highest forecasts of an average $76 for US crude in 2009. It is the only bank which forecasts an above $100 average for the next year.
The most modest forecaster was The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which put a 2009 average $36 for US crude.
Goldman Sachs forecast a below mean average $45 for US crude this year, unchanged form the December poll. The bank had one of the most bullish forecasts in the summer, expecting a 2009 average of $148.