Oil up above $103 on jobs data, ECB, Iran exports

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Brent crude oil rose further above $103 a barrel on Thursday as stronger U.S. jobs data, a drop in U.S. oil stocks and lower Iranian exports outweighed worries that the U.S. Federal Reserve may scale back its economic stimulus program.

Expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will roll back its stimulus, putting a brake on global economic growth this year, kept financial markets on edge and helped push Asian shares to 2013 lows on Thursday.

But data showing fewer Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits supported prices, pointing to moderate job growth and more economic activity ahead.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi was also upbeat, talking of prospects for an economic recovery this year and the need for "accommodative" central bank policies for as long as necessary.

News of a sharp fall in U.S. crude inventories and signs of a further drop in sales of crude by Iran to Asia further supported prices despite signs the market is oversupplied.

Brent crude oil futures for July rose 32 cents to $103.36 a barrel by 1400 GMT. U.S. oil rose 79 cents to $94.53 per barrel.

"The Iranian news is supporting prices," said Carsten Fritsch, senior oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "But it remains to be seen how long this can last. Lower Iranian exports will reduce the global oversupply, but not by much."

"In view of the comfortable supply situation and growing U.S. oil production, supply shortages on the global oil market are not likely."

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday showed U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell 6.3 million barrels last week, much more than a 400,000 barrel decline forecast by analysts polled by Reuters.

Inventories shrank as imports tumbled, while gasoline stocks along the East Coast fell at the start of the driving season.

U.S. crude oil inventories remain close to an all-time high and stocks elsewhere are also plentiful at a time of ample supply from oil producers inside and outside of OPEC.

But there have been some signs of tightening oil supplies.

Data showed Iranian exports have fallen sharply in recent weeks with crude shipments dropping to just 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) last month, about a third of Iran's oil exports before the current round of sanctions.

The United States said on Wednesday it was "deeply troubled" by Iran's plans to start a reactor in 2014 that could yield nuclear bomb material, highlighting concerns about the heavy water reactor Tehran is building near the town of Arak.

U.S. lawmakers are embarking this summer on a campaign to deal an even deeper blow to Iran's diminishing oil sales. Analysts say the ultimate goal could be a near total cut-off. (Additional reporting by Manash Goswami in Singapore; editing by William Hardy and James Jukwey)



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