Oil prices ease, but near 8-week highs on lower U.S stocks

SINGAPORE, July 27 (Reuters) - Oil prices dipped on Thursday after three days of gains, but were sitting just below 8-week highs on hopes that a steeper-than-expected decline in U.S. crude oil inventories will reduce a global oversupply.

Brent crude futures were down 15 cents or 0.3 percent at $50.82 a barrel at 0150 GMT, after rising about 1.5 percent in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were down 14 cents or 0.3 percent to $48.61 a barrel.

U.S. crude stocks fell sharply last week as refineries increased output and imports declined, while gasoline stocks decreased and distillate inventories fell, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

The 7.2 million barrel decline in crude inventories in the week ending July 21 was well above the 2.6 million barrel forecast.

"This marks the fourth consecutive week that total hydrocarbon inventories have fallen during a time of year when they normally increase," said PIRA Energy oil analyst Jenna Delaney.

Optimism that the long-oversupplied market is moving toward balance was also supported by news earlier in the week that Saudi Arabia plans to limit its crude exports to 6.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in August, about 1 million bpd below its export levels a year earlier.

Fellow members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Kuwait and UAE have also promised export cuts.

"The narrowing of the global glut is still on track," OCBC said.

But analysts say oil prices may have little head room as the recent gains could encourage more production, particularly from U.S. shale producers.

"The market will likely be paying even more attention to drilling activity in the U.S. in the coming weeks, particularly after suggestions from certain industry players that the rig count in the U.S. is slowing," ING said in a research note on Wednesday. (Reporting by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Richard Pullin)