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US crude rises 24 cents, settling at $64, on Saudi export cuts and lower US stockpiles

Key Points
  • U.S. crude stockpiles last week fell for first time in four weeks.
  • Saudi Arabia's crude oil exports fell by 277,000 barrels per day just under 7 million bpd in February.
  • Supply has been tightened further by U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran.
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Cullen | Reuters

Oil prices were slightly higher on Thursday, as a drop in crude shipments from top exporter Saudi Arabia and a draw in U.S. oil inventories supported prices.

Crude futures traded in a narrow range, with gains held in check by a strengthening dollar and tepid equities.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled 24 cents higher at $64 per barrel. Brent crude futures rose 35 cents, or half a percent, to $71.97 a barrel, near Wednesday's five-month high of $72.27 a barrel.

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

U.S. crude, gasoline and distillate inventories fell last week, with crude posting an unexpected drawdown and its first in four weeks, the Energy Information Administration data showed on Wednesday, which also helped support prices.

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

U.S. energy firms this week reduced the number of oil rigs operating for the first time in three weeks as production growth forecasts from shale, the country's largest oil fields, continue to shrink. Drillers cut eight oil rigs in the week to April 18, bringing the total count down to 825, General Electric's Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Thursday.

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

Equities, which oil prices often follow, also posted moderate gains on the day ahead of a long Easter weekend.

Prices have been supported this year by an agreement reached by OPEC and its allies, including Russia, to limit their oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day.

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

Iran's crude exports have dropped in April to their lowest daily level this year, tanker data showed and industry sources said, suggesting a reduction in buyer interest ahead of expected further pressure from Washington.

VIDEO7:3907:39
Oil pulse check

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

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

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

Growing U.S. oil production and concerns over the U.S.- China trade dispute are also keeping prices in check.

U.S. crude oil output from seven major shale formations was expected to rise by about 80,000 bpd in May to a record 8.46 million bpd, the EIA said in its monthly report on Monday.

Rising U.S. production has filled some of the gap in supplies, although not all of the lost production can be immediately replaced by U.S. shale oil due to refinery configurations.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.