Oil prices

Benchmark crude for March delivery on Friday lost $1.95, nearly 3 per cent, to settle at $71.19 (U.S.) a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil plunged as low as $69.50 a barrel earlier in the day. That's the cheapest oil has been since Dec. 15.

Crude prices have now dropped more than 14 per cent since cresting at a 15-month high of $83.18 a barrel on Jan. 6.

Energy prices were propped up earlier in the year by predictions that China, India and other developing nations would aggressively boost petroleum imports to feed their growing economies.

But China has since taken steps to control risky bank lending and to cool off its economy.

Meanwhile, Greece, Portugal and Spain are dealing with massive budget deficits, and their continued troubles helped push the euro lower Friday.

A two-day jump in prices earlier in the week evaporated as the dollar surged against the euro. Analysts said they also suspected investors who had snapped up oil contracts changed their minds and were trying to get rid of them fast, before the weekend.

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