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Oil hovers near $96 as US, Asian stocks sink

BANGKOK (AP) — Oil prices fell to nearly $96 a barrel Monday as energy prices took their cues from sinking stock markets in Europe, Asia and Wall Street.

Benchmark oil for March delivery fell 9 cents at midday Bangkok time to $96.08 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped by $1.60 to finish at $96.17 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

Oil prices had risen steadily since they traded near $86 a barrel in mid-December on hopes for an improving global economy. But U.S. stock indexes had big declines Monday amid concerns about political stability in Italy and Spain.

"The feel-good factor from last week's U.S. data has given way to some profit-taking," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets.

An Italian general election at the end of this month looks like it may not be as clear-cut as many people thought. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy denied allegations over the weekend that he and his party received secret cash payments from businesses. Opposition parties are calling for Rajoy to resign. Benchmark stock indexes in both countries endured their steepest drops in months on Monday.

Brent crude, the benchmark used to set prices for oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 46 cents to $115.14 in London. In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.2 cents to finish at $3.0093 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1.6 cents to end at $3.331 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil lost less than 0.2 cents to finish at $3.1521 a gallon.

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