Oil prices extended a three-day rally to above $73 a barrel on Thursday on hopes for a recovery in world energy demand and worries refinery shutdowns could tighten U.S. gasoline supplies before summer driving season.

The International Energy Agency said it revised its outlook for global oil demand higher for the first time since August, two days after the U.S. government's energy forecaster did the same.

Meanwhile, U.S. data showing an increase in retail sales and a slowdown in weekly jobless claims reinforced perceptions that deterioration of the world's top economy was easing - pushing up stocks on Wall Street and pressuring the dollar lower.

Olivier Jakob, oil analyst at Petromatrix, said the markets were now in a phase of identifying signs of economic recovery and that the IEA report will likely be taken as an additional green shoot.

U.S. crude rose $1.35 to $72.68 a barrel, the highest settlement since October 20, after peaking earlier in the session at $73.23. London Brent crude gained 99 cents to $71.79 a barrel.

Earlier in the day, data from China showed oil imports into the world's second biggest energy user rose 5.5 percent in May compared with the previous year, hitting to the second-highest volume on record.


Oil dealers added that news Valero will shut its refinery on the Caribbean island of Aruba for the summer due to weak profit margins encouraged the rally by intensifying concern fuel supplies will tighten when Americans hit the roads this summer.

The 275,000 barrel-per-day Aruba refinery ships partially processed fuels to the United States.

The U.S. has already been hit by a spate of refinery outages in recent weeks, including fires at Sunoco's plant in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, and Flint Hills' plant in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Thursday's gains bring oil's three-day rally to about 7 percent. Crude prices have more than doubled since the depths near $30 a barrel plumbed this winter, aided in part by worries OPEC production curbs will dig into world stockpiles just as the economy recovers.

Venezuela Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the group, which has agreed to cut 4.2 million barrels per day of output from the market since September, should not consider increasing production until world oil stockpiles are reduced.

U.S. crude stocks fell by a sharp 4.4 million barrels last week due to sliding imports, but they remain about 19 percent higher than a year ago, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Alex Lawler and Joe Brock in London, Pascal Fletcher in St. Kitts)