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Oil Slides as Gasoline Concerns Subside

Oil fell Tuesday on easing gasoline supply concerns during the peak demand season in the U.S., the world's top oil consumer.

U.S. light, sweet crude briefly topped $75, then slid to as low as $74.04 by mid-afternoon Tuesday, a day ahead of key U.S. oil data, before climbing again.

London Brent crude for September delivery, the new front-month contract, was down 91 cents at $75.38 per barrel in the early afternoon, after trading as low as $75.03.

Prior to its expiry on Monday, the August Brent contract rose to $78.40 -- just shy of Brent's record $78.65.

News that OPEC nation Iran would cut gasoline imports by at least 14 percent from August weakened demand for the fuel and helped lower crude prices, traders said.

In addition, the restart of a crude distillation unit at Exxon Mobil's Beaumont, Texas, refinery helped ease U.S. supply worries, dealers said.

"The Beaumont refinery restart put the emphasis back on selling gasoline," said Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citigroup Futures Research.

Oil has rallied from around $50 in January, stoked higher by supply problems in the North Sea and a wave of fund buying. A series of refinery problems in the United States had also kept markets on edge during the peak driving season, but some plants are restarting and cranking out more fuel.

Gasoline stocks in the world's biggest consumer are expected to have risen by 900,000 barrels last week, according to a preliminary Reuters poll.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its next snapshot of U.S. petroleum stocks on Wednesday.

Some analysts said an increase in fuel supplies may do little to dampen oil's rally.

"Prices do seem high even given the fundamentals, which are unquestionably a little tight, but I wouldn't want to bet against the price going much higher," said Simon Wardell of Global Insight.

"There just seems to be a mood out there to push the $80 mark, and that might be tested if there's any sort of encouragement in the EIA data."

Speculative investors have aided the price run-up by pushing cash into commodities, amid concerns that world demand growth will continue to stretch supplies.

"The expectation of higher prices is causing the money to flow in," said Bob Greer of commodity investor PIMCO.

Goldman Sachs said on Monday oil could reach $90 a barrel this autumn and $95 by the end of this year, if OPEC did not relent on its export curbs and pump more crude.

But Iran, OPEC's second biggest producer, repeated on Tuesday there was no need to pump more or for member states to gather ahead of the group's scheduled September meeting.

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