Oil prices steady despite Saudi export cuts, U.S. inventory draw

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

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

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

* Coming Up: U.S. weekly oil rig count at 1 p.m. (1700 GMT)

* Interactive graphic on inventories (New throughout, updates prices, comments; changes byline,dateline, previous LONDON)

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changedon Thursday as a drop in crude exports from OPEC's defactoleader Saudi Arabia and a draw in U.S. oil inventories supportedprices, while the strengthening dollar and weak equities keptfutures in check .

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were at $71.70 a barrel by 11:24a.m. EDT (1524 GMT), up 8 cents from their last close and nearWednesday's five-month high of $72.27 a barrel.

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 perday just 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 lastweek, with crude posting an unexpected drawdown and its first infour weeks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) datashowed on Wednesday, which also helped support prices.

"The latest weekly statistics on U.S. oil inventories wereseemingly positive. All the major categories registered draws,"Tamas Varga of London-based oil brokerage PVM said.

Weekly data on the U.S. drilling rig count, an indicator offuture production, is due at 1 p.m., instead of on Friday due tothe Good Friday holiday.

The dollar .DXY , which gained on strong retail sales datafrom the region, also weighed on crude futures. A strongerdollar makes oil more expensive for non-U.S. buyers.

Equities, which oil prices often follow, were also flat onthe day ahead of a long Easter weekend.

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 barrels per day (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.

Indian refiners are turning to other OPEC members, Mexicoand the United States to make up for any loss of Iranian oil.

Spain'sRepsolREP.MC has suspended its swaps of refinedproducts for crude with Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA PDVSA.UL , people familiar with the matter said, as U.S.officials weigh penalties for foreign firms doing business withVenezuela.

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


Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is the world’s largest international multimedia news provider reaching more than one billion people every day. Reuters provides trusted business, financial, national, and international news to professionals via Thomson Reuters desktops, the world's media organizations, and directly to consumers at and via Reuters TV.

Learn More