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By PABLO GORONDI
Associated Press

The price of oil dropped to near $89 a barrel on Monday, its lowest level since mid-December, as a slowdown in China's growth added to doubts about the strength of the world economy and global demand for crude.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for May delivery was down $2.28 to $89.01 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Friday, the Nymex contract fell $2.22 to $91.29.

China's slowdown, weak economic reports from the U.S. and Europe's malaise suggest demand for crude and refined fuels won't be strong enough to absorb the ample supplies on the world market, which is pushing down oil prices.

The Chinese government on Monday said growth in the world's second-largest economy slowed to 7.7 percent in the first quarter from 7.9 percent in the final quarter of last year. Growth was expected to accelerate slightly after several quarters of decline.

"Poorer-than-expected data from China has fueled new fears about demand. On Friday, the U.S. had already published disappointing retail sales figures," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "In other words, demand in both of the leading oil consumer countries is currently weaker than anticipated."

Still, oil consumption is expected to rise this year, even if at a slower pace than previously expected.

"There is thus no fundamental explanation for the $10 price slide over the past two weeks, which is due above all to other factors such as market sentiment, short-term momentum, charts and selling by money managers," Commerzbank said.

In London, Brent crude was down $1.79 to $101.25 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other futures trading on Nymex:

- Wholesale gasoline fell 1.91 cents to $2.791 a gallon.

- Heating oil dropped 2.44 cents to $2.8474 a gallon.

- Natural gas added 2.8 cents to $4.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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