NEW YORK, N.Y. - Oil prices ended lower Monday on concerns that the U.S. economy could slow and investors' worries eased about supply disruptions in the Persian Gulf.

Benchmark Wedt Texas Intermediate crude fell by 78 cents to finish at US$98.78 per barrel in New York on Monday. Brent crude, used to price foreign oils that are imported by U.S. refineries, lost 71 cents to end at US$110.75 a barrel in London.

The U.S. Commerce Department said Americans kept a tighter grip on their wallets in December. Consumer spending was flat, even though incomes rose by the most in nine months.

The U.S. economy relies heavily on consumer spending and analysts say the economic recovery could stall and energy demand may stay weak if spending doesn't pick up.

Meanwhile, Iran welcomed international weapons experts into the country in hopes of refuting claims that it is building a nuclear weapon. That eased concerns about possible military action in the region.

Still, Europe plans to embargo Iranian oil this summer to pressure Iran about its nuclear program. If that happens, Iran says it could retaliate by blocking passage through the Persian Gulf, where tankers carry one-sixth of the world's oil exports.

The U.S. is ready to implement sanctions on Iran's central bank that will make it harder for Iran to sell oil.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell two cents to finish at US$3.05 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and gasoline futures fell six cents to end at US$2.87 a gallon. Natural gas futures fell four cents to end the day at US$2.71 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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