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VOL. 123 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 10, 2008

Oil Prices Fall Below $87 on Recession Fears

By STEVENSON JACOBS | AP Business Writer

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NEW YORK (AP) - Oil prices dipped below $87 a barrel Thursday with the downward momentum slowed somewhat by continuing chatter from OPEC nations about an emergency meeting to address the market slide.

Light, sweet crude for November Delivery fell $1.97 to $86.98 a barrel in morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after fluctuating between positive and negative territory earlier in the day.

The contract fell $1.11 on Wednesday to settle at $88.95 after earlier edging below $85 – a key technical level that some traders believe could lead to another plunge.

Crude has shed about $60 – or 40 percent of its value – since soaring to a record $147.27 on July 11. The massive losses come as a global financial downturn forces people and businesses everywhere to cut back.

In a bid to keep prices from sliding too far, Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari told Iran's official news agency that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may meet next month to discuss the issue. The 13-member cartel had been scheduled to meet Dec. 17 in Algeria.

OPEC controls 40 percent of the world's oil supply, but many analysts doubt it will be able to slow oil's descent just by tightening output. OPEC's announcement that it would cut production by 520,000 barrels a day failed to halt oil's drop.

Peter Beutel, oil analyst at Cameron Hanover, New Canaan, Conn., said history shows that OPEC cuts can rally prices for "a week, two weeks or a month."

"But over a longer period of time, they're incapable of stopping major moves," Beutel said. "We've been down this road before, but OPEC refuses to learn this lesson."

Given the dire U.S. economic conditions and waning energy demand, he said oil prices could be poised for another big drop.

"We have no idea at what price this economy can take. Nobody knows whether it's $100 or $60 or $40," Beutel said. "My guess is that we're going to go a lot lower."

Meanwhile, oil market traders continue to watch a fast-unfolding financial crisis. The U.S. Federal Reserve, along with central banks in Europe and China cut interest rates Wednesday in a bid to jump-start lending. But U.S. stocks sank in response Wednesday and continued to fall Thursday.

"Traders are expecting the world to move toward recession, with the U.S. and Europe especially a concern," said Gerard Rigby, an energy analyst with Fuel First Consulting in Sydney. "Based on the short-term trend, you could see prices approaching $80 next week."

Weighing on prices was evidence of falling demand in the U.S, where crude inventories jumped by 8.1 million barrels last week while gasoline stocks surged 7.2 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday in its weekly inventory report.

Both increases far exceeded expectations, reflecting both persistently weak demand and a recovery of the Gulf Coast energy complex that had been shut down by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

"Overall demand for oil fell for a fifth straight week and year-on-year demand fell for a 24th straight week" this year, noted trader and analyst Stephen Schork in his Schork Report. "In fact last week demand ... fell to the lowest level since the week following the 9/11/2001 attacks."

Demand for gasoline was also weaker, falling 5.3 percentage points over the four weeks ended Oct. 3 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the EIA report.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 6.15 cents at $2.433 a gallon while gasoline lost 1.45 cents to $2.0153 a gallon. Natural gas for November delivery rose 3.3 cents to $6.775 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, November Brent crude fell $1.17 cents to $83.19 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

___

Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna, Austria, and Alex Kennedy contributed to this report from Singapore.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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PROPERTY SALES 89 344 19,573
MORTGAGES 110 422 22,914
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 2 8,305 8,305
BUILDING PERMITS 207 838 40,029
BANKRUPTCIES 60 356 13,104
BUSINESS LICENSES 21 194 6,137
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 30 147 12,996
MARRIAGE LICENSES 15 65 4,842

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