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Oil down slightly, natural gas continues to drop

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices ended a little lower on Tuesday, as traders took their cue from U.S. stock markets and investors awaited the start of the earnings season.

Natural gas prices fell again following a report showing production is at record levels and mild early winter weather.

Benchmark oil fell 4 cents to finish at $93.15 a barrel in New York. The price was close to $94 a barrel earlier, but then followed the stock market lower. Alcoa posts fourth-quarter results after the markets close, the first of the major companies to announce earnings. Investors are concerned that many will have weak showings in the coming weeks, reflecting the economy's sluggish recovery.

Natural gas fell 5 cents to end at $3.22 per 1,000 cubic feet, continuing a decline that started Monday when the Energy Department reported that natural gas production rose to a record 73.54 trillion cubic feet a day in October. In addition some analysts lowered their estimates for natural gas prices because of the mild weather that much of the country experienced in November and December.

Oil traders will be monitoring fresh information this week on U.S. supplies of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ending Jan. 4 is expected to show a rise of 1.5 million barrels for crude oil and an increase of 2.6 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration releases its crude inventories report on Wednesday.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 5 cents to finish at $111.94 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

_ Wholesale gasoline added 2 cents to end at $2.79 a gallon.

_ Heating oil rose 3 cents to $3.06 a gallon.

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