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Oil falls to near US$96 in Asia trade

BANGKOK--A seasonal downturn in U.S. gasoline consumption and speculation that the Obama administration was moving closer to a release of strategic oil reserves sent crude prices down Tuesday.

Benchmark crude for October delivery was down 27 cents to US$96.27 a barrel at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract finished up 12 cents to US$96.54 on Monday on the Nymex.

Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, fell 19 cents to US$114.62.

Natalie Rampono, commodities analyst at ANZ Banking Group in Melbourne, Australia said seasonal factors at play in the U.S. typically lead to lower prices at this time of year.

The market is now in a “shoulder period” — the time of year between summer, when gasoline is in high demand as Americans take to the road for vacation — and the winter, when there is strong demand for heating oil.

“Usually at this time of year we do see prices dropping,” Rampono said. Another factor weighing on prices was speculation that the administration of President Barack Obama was closely studying the possibility of an emergency release of oil reserves in order to keep prices down.

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