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Crude oil prices inch up for the first time in more than two weeks

By Associated Press
Thursday, May 20, 2010; A17

NEW YORK -- Oil prices on Wednesday ended a 16-day slump that already has cooled off gasoline prices ahead of the summer driving season.

Benchmark crude for June delivery added 46 cents to settle at $69.87 a barrel in a volatile trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the day, prices dropped as low as $67.90 -- the cheapest oil has been since Sept. 30.

Most of the trading already has moved away from the June contract, which is set to expire on Thursday. The July contract fell 22 cents to settle at $72.48 a barrel. Crude contracts have given up about 21 percent of their value since hitting an 18-month high on May 3, and the drop in price is starting to show up at the gas pump.

Retail gas prices slipped again overnight, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. A gallon of regular unleaded fell less than a penny to a new national average of $2.852, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Gasoline is 1 cent cheaper per gallon than it was a month ago, but it's still 53.8 cents more expensive than the same time last year.

Many analysts believe that oil prices are destined to rise in the long run, but the direction they may take in the near term is unclear. Oil prices have been tumbling for weeks as Europe struggles to contain its debt crisis. The situation has rippled through equities and commodities markets around the world, pushing the euro lower, which has in turn lifted the dollar. Oil, which is priced in dollars, tends to fall as the greenback rises and makes oil contracts tougher to buy with foreign money.

Elsewhere on Wall Street, stocks slipped again in response to growing fears that Europe has no quick fix for its debt crisis. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 66.58, or 0.6 percent, to close at 10,444.37, after having been down as much as 186 points. It was the Dow's ninth daily loss in 12 days. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 5.75, or 0.5 percent, to 1115.05. At its intraday low on Wednesday, the S&P 500 index was down 9.8 percent from its 2010 trading high. Based on where it closed Wednesday, the S&P 500 index is down 8.4 percent from its peak this year.

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