Crude Slips 1.5%

The August oil contract on the Nymex lost $1.14, or 1.5%, to settle at $74.95 a barrel.
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) -- Crude oil prices weakened Monday as markets wavered ahead of the official start of earnings season and investors also awaited a series of key macroeconomic reports due throughout the week.

"We're in wait-and-see mode," said Phil Flynn, energy analyst at PFGBest, noting the August oil delivery contract took a break after rallying last week on encouraging economic signs. "This week, people have to realize that we're going to have to see good earnings to keep that momentum alive."

"Now it's really about the economy," he continued. "The only thing that will keep prices higher is going to be the value of the markets from here."

The August contract on the Nymex shed $1.14, or 1.5%, to settle at $74.95 a barrel. Flynn said traders would be paying close attention to the highly anticipated announcement from materials bellwether


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-- whose report is seen as the unofficial kickoff to corporate earnings season -- along with weekly crude inventory data scheduled for release late Tuesday and early Wednesday. The rest of the weekly economic calendar will also be filled with inflation readings, manufacturing stats and consumer trend data, among other items.

On Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute releases its weekly read on oil inventories at 4:30 p.m. ET. Analysts polled by Platts are expecting to see that crude oil stockpiles shed 2.6 million barrels in the week ended July 9.

Stocks didn't stray far from the flat line Monday but managed to close with slight gains as investors awaited Alcoa's earnings after the close of trading. The aluminum company beat earnings estimates by a penny and also reported better-than-expected sales of $5.2 billion.

Though Alcoa shares spent most of Monday's session as the

Dow Jones Industrial Average's

biggest laggard, it finished the day among the three worst performers, preceded by


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United Tech

. Oil-related components

Exxon Mobil

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gained 0.3% and 0.01%, respectively.

More broadly, oil-related stocks turned in mixed results. The Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index lost 0.3%, while the NYSE Arca Oil index rose 0.6%.

In the latest


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events, the British firm was in the crosshairs of renewed acquisition rumors Monday morning, which helped spark a rally that saw shares finish 8% higher on Monday. Progress was also being made on a new cap for the leak in the Gulf, while news spread the oil giant may be trying to sell certain assets to


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Elsewhere on the Nymex, the August natural gas contract lost a penny, or 0.3%, to settle at $4.39 per million British thermal units. August heating oil gave up 3 cents, or 1.7%, to settle at $1.99 a gallon and the August gasoline contract was down by 4 cents, or 2%, to settle at $2.03 a gallon.

--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York