March 15, 2019 / 9:44 PM / 5 days ago

UPDATE 8-U.S. oil retreats from 2019 high on soaring production

* Economic slowdown prompts concern over demand growth

* OPEC has led supply cuts since start of year

* U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, Iran tighten market

* IEA sees OPEC, U.S. supply cushioning supply disruptions (Updates with settlement prices)

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. crude futures eased slightly on Friday after hitting a 2019 high, as worries about the global economy and robust U.S. production put a brake on prices.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures settled down 9 cents at $58.52 a barrel, having hit their highest so far this year at $58.95.

Brent crude futures settled down 7 cents at $67.16 a barrel, below their 2019 peak of $68.14 reached on Thursday.

U.S. crude ended the week 4.1 percent higher, and Brent was up 1.9 percent.

"The market is taking a pause as it tries to digest mixed reports that give us different ideas of future supply and demand," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures group in Chicago. "The OPEC-plus meeting could give us a little direction," he said.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed last year to cut production, partly in response to increased U.S. shale output.

OPEC+ ministers will meet on April 17-18 to decide production policy.

"If OPEC+ decide to extend (cuts) ... we expect that inventories will continue to draw through at least Q3," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said.

The International Energy Agency said on Friday that the market could show a modest surplus in the first quarter of 2019 before flipping into a deficit in the second quarter by about 0.5 million barrels per day (bpd).

It said a comfortable supply cushion by OPEC could prevent any price rally in case of possible disruptions and that non-OPEC oil output growth led by the United States should ensure demand is met.

U.S. energy firms this week reduced the number of oil rigs operating for a fourth week in a row, with drilling slowing to its lowest in nearly a year, prompting the government to cut crude output growth forecasts.

Drillers cut one oil rig in the week to March 15, bringing the total count down to 833, the lowest since April 2018, General Electric Co's Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely-followed report on Friday.

Oil price gains have been limited by concerns that an economic slowdown that has gripped large parts of Asia and Europe will dent growth in fuel demand.

But oil consumption has held up so far.

Crude oil use in China, the world's biggest importer, in the first two months of 2019 rose 6.1 percent from a year earlier to a record 12.68 million bpd, official data showed this week.

Goldman Sachs said growth in global demand for crude in January was "nearly 2.0 million barrels per day, with strength visible in both emerging markets and developed economies."

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Noah Browning; Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by David Gregorio and Rosalba O'Brien

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