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For the first time in seven years there is a buyers' market in oil. Two US companies -- Atlantic Richfield and Ashland -- have canceled contracts totaling 167,000 barrels a day from foreign suppliers. Major oil companies won't pay Kuwait a premium for its high-grade crude anymore. And the Japanese are refusing to pay a $1.80-a-barrel bonus to Iran for 20,000 barrels of crude a day. Mexico, Ecuador, and Oman are rolling back their crude prices slightly.

Even some US-produced crude has dropped in price by as much as $1 a barrel.

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It's too early for this trend to translate into lower prices at the gas pump, though. And a pickup in the economy or a significant production cutback by the Saudis could bri ng it to an abrupt halt.m

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