Oil prices little changed despite Saudi export cuts, U.S. stocks draw

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* 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 (Adds U.S. rig count data, analyst comment)

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - Oil futures held steady onThursday as a drop in crude exports from OPEC's de facto leader,Saudi Arabia, and a draw in U.S. oil inventories supportedprices, while a strengthening dollar kept futures in check.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were higher at $71.73 a barrelby 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT), up 11 cents from their last closeand near Wednesday's five-month high of $72.27.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 weredown 10 cents at $63.66 a barrel.

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 fell dropped week, with crude posting an unexpected drawdown, the first infour weeks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) datashowed on Wednesday.

"Although we viewed yesterday's EIA guidance as bullish onbalance, the market's response to the data has thus far beenmuted," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch andAssociates, said in a note. "As a result, we are maintaining aview that WTI will need to see some fresh highs within the next2-3 sessions if this year's bull move is to prove sustainable."

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.

The dollar .DXY gained on strong U.S. retail sales dataand the euro eased from weak manufacturing numbers, weighing oncrude futures. A stronger dollar makes oil more expensive fornon-U.S. buyers.

U.S. equities were modestly higher in trading ahead of along Easter weekend. .N

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 dropped 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.

"The market is taking a pause because we don't really have adecision on that," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price FuturesGroup in Chicago.

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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