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Oil stocks follow crude prices down

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of the major oil companies fell Wednesday as the price of crude dropped 4 percent by early afternoon.

Investors were also concerned about specific companies. An Oppenheimer analyst said Exxon Mobil Corp.'s prospects for growth were dimmed by slower oil and gas production. Its shares tumbled to a two-month low on fears of slower economic growth.

Oil prices slid on fresh fears about the global economy, especially in Europe. European leaders predicted that the region's economy would shrink 0.3 percent this year, and forecasters expect unemployment to remain high into 2014.

Slow growth in Europe would further weaken demand for oil, which has already seen a drop in oil consumption.

U.S. benchmark crude dropped $3.56 to $85.15 per barrel, erasing a 3.5 percent gain on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit said that third-quarter oil and gas production at Exxon, the largest U.S. oil company, fell below his "worst-case scenario."

Gheit said in a note to clients that the full-year production decline would be larger than the 3 percent pullback that Exxon had forecast.

Exxon shares were down $2.22, or 2.4 percent, to $88.82. At one point is dropped as low as 87.70. Chevron Corp. was down $2.49, or 2.3 percent, to $107.87. ConocoPhillips fell $1.21, or 2.1 percent, to $57.01. U.S. shares of Royal Dutch Shell fell 57 cents to $68.96 and BP PLC dropped 80 cents to $41.76.