By Ahmad Ghaddar
LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changed on Thursday as a drop in crude exports from OPEC's defacto leader Saudi Arabia and a draw in U.S. oil inventories supported prices, while the strengthening dollar and weak equities kept futures in check .
Brent crude futures were at $71.70 a barrel by 11:24 a.m. EDT (1524 GMT), up 8 cents from their last close and near Wednesday's five-month high of $72.27 a barrel.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 10 cents at $63.66 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 (JODI).
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 (EIA) 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.
Weekly data on the U.S. drilling rig count, an indicator of future production, is due at 1 p.m., instead of on Friday due to the Good Friday holiday.
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, were also flat on the day ahead of a long Easter weekend.
Oil has been driven up this year by an agreement reached by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, to limit their oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd).
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.
"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.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London, Aaron Sheldrick, Colin Packham and Jane Chung; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Apr 19, 2019 00:05:40 IST