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Oil below $97 amid debt crisis, US economy jitters

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[July 18, 2011]  SINGAPORE (AP) -- Oil prices slipped below $97 a barrel Monday in Asia as weakening U.S. consumer confidence and more signs of financial stress in Europe kept a lid on buying appetite.

Benchmark oil for August delivery was down 35 cents to $96.89 a barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude rose $1.55 to settle at $97.24 on Friday.

In London, Brent crude fell 91 cents to $116.35 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

On Friday, 8 of 90 European banks flunked stress tests designed to gauge how they would fare in another recession, and 16 more barely passed. Investors in Europe have been rattled by concern Greece's debt crisis could spread to other EU countries and further undermine already weak economic growth.

Traders are also eyeing the U.S., where lawmakers have yet to agree on government spending two weeks from a deadline about raising the debt ceiling. Ratings agencies have put the U.S. credit rating on downgrade watch as a result.

Consumer confidence fell in July to its lowest in more than two years, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey released Friday.

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"The economic headlines of the last several months have been less than encouraging, especially when it comes to our homes and our jobs," energy consultant The Schork Group said in a report. "So it comes as little surprise that confidence among consumers is now back at levels last seen during the Great Recession."

In other Nymex trading in August contracts, heating oil fell 2.3 cents to $3.11 a gallon while gasoline dropped 2.0 at $3.06 a gallon. Natural gas futures gained 0.8 cent at $4.55 per 1,000 cubic feet.

[Associated Press; By ALEX KENNEDY]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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