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Sign of the times for oil bulls? Exxon Mobil at 52-week low

July 17, 2008 | 11:14 am

Crude oil is down for a third straight session today and natural gas is tumbling for the seventh time in nine sessions.

Maybe it’s still wishful thinking to believe that the energy bull market has been broken, but the action in oil and gas stocks suggests that the thought has crossed the minds of more than a few investors.

How about this: Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. fell to a 52-week low of $79.85 early today. The stock has slumped 15% from its recent peak of $94.56 on May 20.

Exxonstation Chevron Corp., off 88 cents to $85.51 at about 11 a.m. PDT today, has tumbled 17% since peaking at $103.09 on May 20.

The XOI index of 13 major energy stocks is down 1% so far today, the eighth drop in nine sessions. The index is off almost 20% from its May high and is just about 3% above its 52-week low reached in August.

Energy-stock investors have racked up massive paper profits over the last five years, of course, so profit-taking shouldn’t be surprising at this point.

But the weakness in the stocks is underscoring the idea that record oil prices have done some serious damage to the global economy that may well loop back into sustained lower energy consumption.

Growth is slowing even in China, which on Wednesday said its economy expanded at an annualized rate of 10.1% in the second quarter, compared with 11.9% for all of 2007.

Crude oil futures in New York were off $3.66 to $130.94 a barrel at about 11 a.m. PDT. They’ve fallen almost 10% from the record high of $145.29 on July 3.

Natural gas is off 87 cents to $10.53 per million British thermal units today. Gas has plummeted 22% from its recent peak of $13.58, also reached on July 3.

Photo: Going down, and soon? Credit: David McNew/Getty Images