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Oil Dips Below $72 a Barrel

Concerns about sluggish consumption amid equities' free fall tripped energy futures and stocks.

Crude prices fell below the $72-a-barrel level Thursday, tripped up by the same bearish sentiment that tore through global equity markets in the trading session.

September light sweet crude fell 51 cents to $71.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Reformulated gasoline remained unchanged at $1.94 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.99.

September natural gas rose 37 cents to $6.59 per million British thermal units.

Worries about shrinking oil consumption in a slowing global economy continued to suppress crude prices, according to Alan Mandel, analyst at Alan M. Trading. However, investors shouldn't expect oil to fall much further, Mandel says.

"There will be a buying opportunity if oil falls below $68," he says. "Geopolitical hotspots around the world are still relevant, and we haven't yet entered the peak of hurricane season."

Elsewhere, the Energy Information Administration reported new natural gas inventory figures. Natural gas stores rose by 42 billion cubic feet during the week ending Aug. 3. This was slightly less than the 49 billion cubic feet injection that analysts had forecast before the announcement.

The price of near-term natural gas jumped 5.7% on Thursday. A heat wave blanketing much of the country is pushing prices upward, according to Dennis Gartman, publisher of

The Gartman Letter

.

Meanwhile, energy stocks were hammered in Thursday's trading session. The

CBOE Oil Index

slid 2.6% to 724.41.

ConocoPhillips

(COP) - Get ConocoPhillips Report

lost 2.6% of its value, closing at $78.57.

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Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Exxon Mobil Corporation Report

fell 3.1% to $84.79.

Among ratings changes, Lehman Brothers upgraded

Marathon Oil

(MRO) - Get Marathon Oil Corporation (MRO) Report

to overweight from equal weight. However, shares of Marathon dropped 4.2% to $49.86.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners

(KMP)

was upgraded by Sanders Morris Harris to buy from neutral. The stock is down 2.7% at $49.74.

Transocean

(RIG) - Get Transocean Ltd. Report

was upgraded by Matrix Research to strong buy from buy. Shares fell 2.1% to $101.42.

Chesapeake Energy

(CHK) - Get Chesapeake Energy Corporation Report

was downgraded by Wachovia to market perform from outperform, lowering its shares 3.9% to $34.06.