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Oil falls from 2015 peaks, Brent jumps 9.6 percent on the week

A driver pumps petrol into his car at a petrol station in Brussels March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

By Robert Gibbons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude futures fell from 2015 peaks in choppy trading on Friday, but Brent's 9.6 percent weekly gain was its biggest in more than five years as Middle East turmoil and signs of lower U.S. production lifted prices.

U.S. crude also retreated from its 2015 high, but registered a fifth straight weekly gain, which at 7.9 percent was the biggest since it jumped 13.5 percent in the week to Feb. 25 2011.

Brent June (LCOc1) crude fell 53 cents to settle at $63.45 a barrel, having swung from $62.95 to $64.50 after hitting $64.95, its 2015 high, on Thursday.

Brent's second straight weekly gain, the fourth in five weeks, was its biggest since a 9.9 percent rally in the week to Oct. 16, 2009.

U.S. May (CLc1) crude, expiring on Tuesday, fell 97 cents to settle at $55.74. It reached a 2015 peak of $57.42 on Thursday.

Yemen's escalating conflict sparked Thursday's rally and on Friday military units protecting the Masila oilfields withdrew.

While Yemen is not a major oil producer, the conflict raises concern about risks to supply from the region's major exporters, especially Saudi Arabia.

Oil rallied Wednesday on data showing the smallest weekly U.S. inventory build since Jan. 2. That followed reports of U.S. production beginning to pull back as the price retreat since June weighs on producers. [EIA/S]

Oil initially pared losses after Baker Hughes (BHI.N) data showed U.S. oil drilling rigs fell for a record 19th straight week, although this week's 26-rig drop was lower than the loss of 42 last week. [RIG/U]

"Futures markets are always forward-looking and as a result, the market has seen a focus shift away from rising stock levels ... and toward production levelling where significant uncertainties lie ahead," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, said in a note.

Prices also drew support from traders closing out short positions, encouraged by strong technical factors, said Rob Montefusco, senior oil trader at Sucden Financial.

"Technically, Brent is looking in better shape at the moment," he said.

Brent and U.S. crude pushed above their 100-day moving averages this week. Brent's 50-day average of $58.18 moved above its 100-day of $57.90 on Friday, a bullish move called a "golden cross" by chart watchers. That puts the 100-day average as a major new support level.

Speculators raised their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions in the week to April 14, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said.

(Additional reporting by Himanshu Ojha and Alex Lawler in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by William Hardy, Gunna Dickson, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Galloway)