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Oil falls below $102, may weaken further if U.S. stalemate continues

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BANGKOK - The price of oil dropped below US$102 a barrel Wednesday after scores of U.S. government workers were ordered off the job because of a budget impasse in Washington.

Benchmark oil for November delivery fell 44 cents to $101.60 per barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 29 cents to close at $102.04 a barrel in New York.

Relatively weak oil demand in the U.S. could weaken further if the shutdown curbs economic growth and continues to stop 800,000 federal workers from driving to work. The workers were furloughed after U.S. legislators failed to agree on a budget measure to fund government operations after the fiscal year ended Monday.

"Oil prices are very much linked with U.S. consumption," said Andrew Sullivan, sales trader at Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong. "With 800,000 workers not being paid, short-term demand is likely to be curtailed."

Investors will begin monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and fuels Wednesday when the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration issues its weekly report. The EIA says it will continue to operate despite the shutdown for several more days.

Data for the week ending Sept. 27 is expected to show a build of 2.4 million barrels in crude oil stocks and a draw of 1.4 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

Brent crude, a benchmark used to price imported crude used by many U.S. refineries, fell 43 cents to $107.51 in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.6 cents to $2.5948 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1.6 cents to $3.625 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 0.5 cent to $2.9505 per gallon.

(TSX:ECA, TSX:IMO, TSX:SU, TSX:HSE, NYSE:BP, NYSE:COP, NYSE:XOM, NYSE:CVX, TSX:CNQ, TSX:TLM, TSX:COS.UN, TSX:CVE)

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