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Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, July 6 (Reuters) Oil eased back under $75 a barrel on Thursday, a day after marking a record high amid fears over Iran's nuclear programme and expectations of a drop in U.S. gasoline stockpiles as the summer season gets into gear.

U.S. crude for August dipped 29 cents to $74.90 a barrel by 0328 GMT, after Wednesday's all-time high of $75.40 that was just past its previous peak in April. London Brent crude shed 21 cents to $73.77 a barrel.

Oil prices embarked on a sustained rally two weeks ago, climbing more than $6 on geopolitical concerns, a shipping disruption for U.S. refiners and signs that high pump prices have not deterred drivers in the world's largest energy guzzler.

U.S. government data due at 1430 GMT will provide the next clues on the health of demand in the United States, whose gasoline consumption accounts for over a tenth of world oil use.

The data are expected to show a 1.1 million-barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles and a 1.9 million-barrel draw on crude inventories for the week to June 30, a Reuters poll found.

Distillate stocks were seen up 1.1 million barrels ''The focus is all on the U.S. gasoline inventory data. If the data shows a drastic draw, prices could jump,'' said Tetsu Emori, chief strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures Ltd. in Tokyo.

''On the other hand, because the futures are overbought technically, if the inventories do not turn out to show a large draw, it could be sold heavily.'' NYMEX gasoline futures led Wednesday's rally, rising 5.7 cents or 2.6 percent, on forecasts that U.S. demand increased last week ahead of the holiday weekend. The contract eased to $2.265 a gallon in ACCESS trading, down 0.5 percent.

Motor fuel demand is expected to have risen in the week as drivers shrugged off high pump prices of around $2.93 a gallon last week, just below the record of $3.056.

Fuel output from ConocoPhillips' 240,000 barrels per day refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was still at reduced rates on Wednesday despite the reopening of commercial water traffic on a key shipping channel.

POLITICAL WORRIES Oil brokers also said the price surge on Wednesday, the first day of U.S. crude trading for the third quarter, may have been the result of a big shift of fund money into oil, which has rallied more than 22 percent since the start of the year.

Supply concerns raised by the row between key oil producer Iran and the West over Tehran's atomic ambitions, along with a partial loss of Nigerian supply, had helped drive prices to the previous record at $75.35 in April.

Iran postponed a planned meeting on Wednesday with the European Union to discuss incentives to stop its uranium enrichment. They are now scheduled to meet in Brussels on Thursday and July 11 Traders worry the dispute could disrupt oil flows from the Gulf.

Fears of further disruptions in Nigeria were underlined by an attack on an offshore oil rig on Wednesday, when gunmen withdrew after a battle with security guards, abducting one.

However, analysts said North Korea's launch on Wednesday of a series of missiles into the Japan Sea exaggerated geopolitical tension but had little, if any, impact on oil prices.

''It had no impact at all,'' said Emori. ''No tankers go through there and there is no impact on pipelines.'' REUTERS CS RS1239

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