Oil prices fall below $99 a barrel

Oil prices drifted lower Friday on concerns about European credit downgrades. A European recession would slow demand for oil and push oil prices lower.

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    Gasoline prices are displayed on a board at Hungarian oil company MOL petrol station in Budapest earlier this week. Oil prices fell Friday on concerns that a recession would reduce demand for fuel.
    Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
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Oil prices finished lower Friday on fresh concerns about Europe's economy as credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded France, Austria and other European countries.

Benchmark crude fell by 40 cents to end at $98.70 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil that's imported by U.S. refineries, fell by 70 cents to end at $110.35 per barrel in London.

S&P downgraded the government debt of France, Austria, Italy and Spain, but it kept Germany's at the coveted AAA level. S&P cut its ratings on a total of nine eurozone countries.

The downgrades could make it harder for the European Union to raise money and overcome massive government debts. A recession appears likely in Europe, and huge spending cuts will likely reduce European energy demand this year.

In the U.S., gasoline pump prices rose 1 cent to a national average of $3.39 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 3 cents to finish at $3.03 per gallon, while gasoline futures were virtually unchanged at $2.73 per gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $2.67 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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