UPDATE 5-U.S. oil sinks, traders take profit, spreads in focus
* Today marks 5 year anniversary of highest ever Brent futures price of $147.50
* Bernanke says Fed will keep accommodative policy for now
* Brent/WTI spread at lowest since November 2010
(New throughout, updates prices and market activity; new byline, changes dateline, previously LONDON)
NEW YORK, July 11 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil futures dipped from a 15-month high on Thursday as investors sold contracts to take profit after three weeks of sharp gains and as U.S. data showed a rise in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week.
Brent's premium to U.S. crude <CL-LCO1=R> narrowed to the smallest since November 2010 at $1.32, a day after U.S. data showed the biggest two-week drop on record in crude stockpiles, indicating strong U.S. demand for domestic crude oil.
The spread between U.S. gasoline futures and Brent crude oil futures <0#LCO-RB=R> widened to $19.30 a barrel, its widest since April 2. Brokers and traders said refineries were using the spread as a financial hedge should refining margins fall.
Front-month U.S. crude oil futures were down $2.12 a barrel, or nearly 2 percent, at $104.40 at 12:10 p.m. EDT (1610 GMT). The session high of $107.45 was the highest since March 2012.
The front-month contract jumped nearly 3 percent in the previous session, its biggest daily rise since early May. The contract has gained $15 a barrel since June 28.
"Today's jobless claims threw a wrench in the market," said Bill Baruch, senior market strategist at iitrader.com in Chicago, Illinois.
"The market's had a great run. You've seen a $15 gain in three weeks. Traders are taking profit. You don't want to be short over the weekend."
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 360,000, the U.S. Labor Department said.
U.S. crude oil futures were also being pressured on Thursday by a report that the 400,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Seaway crude oil pipeline was shut down.
Brent crude oil futures fell $1.08 to $107.43, after hitting $108.93, its loftiest since April 3.
Recent highs are still much lower than prices on the same date five years ago, when oil traded some $40 per barrel higher. In 2008, global benchmark Brent traded at a high of $147.50 and U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate traded at $147.27.
The market is still "backwardated" meaning prompt month prices are higher than those further out along the curve.
The steep backwardation suggests supply scarcity, but that is hard to reconcile with the reported crude oil stock position," Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity market strategy at BNP Paribas in London said.
Oil prices were somewhat pressured by a report that said the North American shale oil boom could spur the biggest rise in non-OPEC supply growth in decades by 2014, eroding the market share of OPEC countries.
Prices were higher earlier in the session on a weaker U.S. dollar and after markets absorbed news from a speech by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who said the central bank would continue to pursue an accommodative monetary policy.
(Additional reporting by Julia Payne in London and Luke Pachymuthu.; editing by David Gregorio)