Oil prices near $35 on more dour economic news

HOUSTON - Crude prices tumbled Wednesday following a raft of bad economic news and growing stockpiles of unused gasoline that suggested demand for energy has continued to erode.Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell $3.63 to settle at $35.35 in a shortened day of trading. Prices fell as low as $35.13 just before the market closed for the holiday.

It was the ninth straight day that crude has fallen.

Investors expecting more evidence of slowing U.S. energy demand got a bit of a surprise as the Energy Department reported crude inventories dropped last week.But Americans continue to cut back on driving amid the worst recession in a generation, leading to growing stockpiles of gasoline and eroding demand for motor fuel.

Gasoline futures plummeted below 80 cents a gallon.

"I don't see anything out of this report that's really going to change this downward move," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. "Things are going to remain under downside pressure through the balance of this year and probably into the new year."A steady stream of dismal U.S. economic and corporate data during the past few months has hammered investor confidence and sent oil prices reeling 74 percent since July.

More bad news emerged Wednesday with consumer spending falling for a fifth straight month in November, the longest weak stretch in a half century, while incomes declined under the weight of massive job layoffs.

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