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Oil prices lower in quiet holiday trading

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NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil fell slightly Monday during a shortened pre-Christmas trading day.

Concerns over the political stalemate in Washington continue to be the focus of traders, with the price of U.S. benchmark oil closing down 5 cents to $88.61 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Energy traders have been watching Democrats and Republicans clash over tax hikes and social service cuts. Normally, recent good economic data would signal more energy consumption and higher prices. But fears about the "fiscal cliff" have so far tempered prices, according to Phil Flynn of The Price Future Group.

"Because of the holiday, a lot of people are sitting on the sidelines," Flynn said. "We've priced in those scenarios and now we're just waiting for something definitive."

The average U.S. price for gasoline rose 1.5 cents over the weekend to $3.247 a gallon. Regular unleaded costs nearly two cents more than a year ago.

In other energy futures trading:

— Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 17 cents to $108.80 a barrel.

— Natural gas fell 10.5 cents to $3.346 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil eased 2 cents to $3.00 a gallon.

— Wholesale gasoline rose 1.6 cents to $2.75 a gallon.

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