Oil prices inch up on signs of tightening global supply

* Saudi Arabia oil exports fall to 7 mln bpd in Feb -JODI

* U.S. inventories last week drop for first time in fourweeks

* U.S. oil drillers cut rigs for first week in three -BakerHughes

* Dollar gains over euro after strong U.S. retail sales

* Interactive graphic on inventories (Updates prices and market activity to settlement; adds analystcomments)

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - Oil futures edged up onThursday as a drop in crude exports from OPEC's de facto leader,Saudi Arabia, and a draw in U.S. drilling rigs and oilinventories supported prices.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 settled at $71.97 a barrel, up35 cents from their last close and near Wednesday's five-monthhigh of $72.27. Brent saw a weekly gain of 0.6 percent, markingthe fourth consecutive weekly rise for the internationalbenchmark.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 settled at $64.00 a barrel, up 24.00 cents. U.S. futures gainedjust under 0.2 percent for the week, its seventh weekly gain ina row.

Saudi Arabia's crude oil exports fell by 277,000 barrels tojust under 7 million bpd in February from the month before,according to data from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative(JODI).

U.S. crude, gasoline and distillate inventories dropped thisweek, with crude posting an unexpected drawdown, the first infour weeks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) datashowed on Wednesday.

"I think it's pretty clear that tightening supplies andreceding fears of demand growth is a boost to the market tothese five month highs," said Gene McGillian, vice president ofmarket research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

U.S. energy companies this week cut the number of oildrilling rigs for the first time in three weeks as productiongrowth forecasts from shale, the country's largest oil fields,continue to shrink.

The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output,fell by eight in the week ending April 18, General Electric Co'sGE.N Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its weeklyreport, which was released a day early because of the GoodFriday holiday.

Oil has been driven up this year by an agreement reached bythe Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and itsallies, including Russia, to limit their oil output by 1.2million bpd.

Global supply has been tightened further by U.S. sanctionson OPEC members Venezuela and Iran.

Iran's crude exports have fallen in April to their lowestdaily level this year, tanker data showed and industry sourcessaid, suggesting a reduction in buyer interest ahead of expectedfurther pressure from Washington.

Strong U.S. retail sales data and earnings from industrialcompanies put global slowdown fears, sparked by underwhelmingmanufacturing surveys from Asia and Europe, on the back burner.

Thursday's oil rally was kept in check, however, by a risein the U.S. dollar, which makes crude more expensive for globalbuyers.

"A significant strengthening in the dollar, especiallyagainst the Euro, tended to limit buying interest," JimRitterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in anote.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London, AaronSheldrick, Colin Packham and Jane Chung;Editing by Marguerita Choy, Steve Orlofsky and Sandra Maler) ((, (917) 809-0054))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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