Oil eased below $73 a barrel on Friday, tracking back from a seven-week high, as caution braked gains ahead of further pointers on the economic health of the United States, the world's top energy consumer.

By 0803 GMT, the new front month U.S. crude futures contract for October delivery was down 3 cents at $72.88 a barrel, off a seven-week high of $73.24. London Brent crude for October was up 17 cents at $73.50.

Oil was still on track for a 7.3 percent gain this week.

The market will scour Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech before the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium at 1400 GMT on Thursday for more clues on the health of the world's largest economy.

The U.S. National Association of Realtors will also release existing home sales for July at 1400 GMT. Economists forecast a total of 5.00 million annualized units versus 4.89 million in June.

Oil industry data on Wednesday showing a surprise 8.4 million barrel plunge in weekly U.S. crude stocks -- against analysts' forecasts for a 1.3 million barrel build -- had earlier buoyed sentiment.

But the surge proved short-lived as consensus grew on Thursday that this was due to a fall in imports rather than signs of a genuine rebound in U.S. fuel demand.

Wednesday's inventory report was definitely positive for the market, but the data is volatile, and you need to see a trend forming rather than a one-off decline before it gets fully priced into the market, said Ben Westmore at National Australia Bank.

As yet, there were few signs of recovering U.S. fuel demand. Freight traffic across North America fell 17.9 percent in the week ended August 15 from the same 2008 week, a trade group said on Thursday in a weekly report.

On the supply front, increased oil output to a year-high from OPEC president Angola, flouting agreed limits, has stacked the odds against any change when the producer group meets next month.

Without a sharp slide in crude prices, OPEC is likely to leave its output targets unchanged when it meets on September 9, most OPEC delegates and analysts said.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Tan in Singapore)