Oil Price Drop Triggers a ‘Herd Mentality’ of Selling

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Khalid A. al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, expressed cautious optimism that oil prices would rebound.

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Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

HOUSTON — Often turbulent, the oil market had become almost boring the past few months, with prices moving little and hovering around $51 to $56 a barrel.

No one is yawning anymore.

The American oil benchmark price has swooned by 9 percent since Tuesday, falling below $50 a barrel for the first time since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to cut production in November to support the market.

The immediate impetus for the drop in prices was a report by the Energy Department that…

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