By Jessica Jaganathan
SINGAPORE, April 25 (Reuters) - Brent crude rose to a more than one-week high above $102 a barrel on Thursday after a sharp drop in U.S. gasoline stocks, while hopes demand will pick up ahead of the summer driving season in the world's top oil consumer also supported prices.
Expectations that the European Central Bank will lower interest rates soon, a move that would support demand for commodities from the euro zone, further underpinned oil prices.
Brent crude rose for a fifth session out of six and was up 47 cents at $102.20 a barrel by 0315 GMT. It hit $102.22 earlier in the day, its highest since April 15.
U.S. crude added 45 cents to trade at $91.88 a barrel, just below its highest level in almost two weeks of $91.93 hit earlier in the session.
'I think prices likely rose on expectations that as we move towards (the U.S. summer) driving season, refinery run rates are going to ramp up and crude stocks at Cushing will draw down with the U.S.-Brent spread continuing to strengthen,' said Tony Nunan, a risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp.
Inventories at Cushing rose by only 35,000 barrels last week, below what some market players had expected, weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed. Still, overall crude stockpiles in the Midwest climbed to a record.
Additional support came from a steep 3.9-million-barrel drop in gasoline inventories last week as refinery output unexpectedly dipped, compared with analysts' expectations for a smaller decline of 200,000 barrels.
Brent's premium to U.S. crude futures had narrowed to $10.12 during Asian trade on Thursday, its lowest since June 2012, and has largely traded between $10 and $12 for three weeks.
WEAK ECONOMY STILL WEIGHS
But price gains were capped as concerns on the state of the global economy, and its impact on oil demand, remained.
Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods recorded their biggest drop in seven months in March and a gauge of planned business spending rose only modestly, the latest signs of a slowdown in economic activity.
This follows other gloomy global data, with growth in Chinese factories slowing to a crawl and German business activity falling for the first time in five months.
But hopes that bleak data will prompt central banks to take easing measures should help cushion oil prices.
The European Central Bank is closer to lowering interest rates than at any time since it last cut them in July 2012 and is likely to shave a quarter-point off at its policy meeting next week.
Recent disappointing data from Europe and top oil consumers the United States and China have stoked worries about global demand, dragging down oil prices by more than 5 percent since the start of April and fuelling speculation about supply cuts.
OPEC ministers are in consultations over whether to call an extraordinary meeting given the recent price slide, Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said last week.
While consultations between OPEC members likely picked up in recent weeks, there is no sign a meeting will be held before the next scheduled gathering in Vienna on May 31.
Oil investors are waiting for cues from OPEC, Nunan said.
'It's a schizophrenic market because if the price is high, OPEC is not going to cut and if they drop, people think OPEC is going to cut and the prices go back up,' he said.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar) Keywords: MARKETS OIL/
(Jessica.Jaganathan@thomsonreuters.com)(+65 6870 3822)(Reuters Messaging: email@example.com)
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