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Oil Drops Below $59 for First Time Since 2009

Oil fell below $59 a barrel for the first time since May 2009 on Tuesday, extending a six-month selloff as slowing Chinese factory activity and weakening emerging-market currencies added to concerns about demand.

International benchmark Brent crude has almost halved since reaching a 2014 high of $115 a barrel in June on ample supply and slowing demand, and a switch in strategy by exporter group OPEC to defending market share rather than prices. A report showing Chinese industrial activity shrank for the first time in seven months in December added to concern about oil demand. China is the second-largest oil consumer after the United States.

Brent crude fell as low as $58.50, its weakest since May 2009. As of 1221 GMT it was down $2.12 at $58.94 while U.S. crude was down $1.73 at $54.18 per barrel. "The trend remains down," said Robin Bieber, technical analyst and director at London-based oil broker PVM Oil Associates. The drop in oil prices is having some profound effects on the global economy. In the U.S., gas prices are falling, putting more dollars in consumers' pockets. In Russia, it has helped hand the ruble its worst drop since 1998.

Seasonal stock cheer on hold until oil stabilizes 1:53

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-- Reuters and NBC News Staff