* Iran’s surging exports may hit maximum capacity soon
* Start of Ramadan seen lifting demand
* Rising U.S. drilling activity could cap further gains (Releads, updates prices, adds quote)
By Julia Payne
LONDON, June 6 (Reuters) – Brent crude oil prices rose to a fresh seven-month high on Monday, lifted by a fall in the dollar that could spur demand just as attacks on Nigerian oil infrastructure tighten supplies, but signs of recovering U.S. output capped gains.
Brent crude futures were up 97 cents at $50.61 a barrel at 1244 GMT after hitting a high of $50.78. U.S. crude futures were up $1.02 cents at $49.64 a barrel.
Traders said oil prices rose on a sharp fall in the dollar on Friday after weak U.S. jobs data sparked concerns over the state of the world’s biggest economy, cutting expectations of a near-term cut in U.S. interest rates.
A weaker dollar supports fuel demand in the rest of the world as it makes dollar-traded oil imports cheaper.
Traders will be watching Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech at 1630 GMT on Monday for hints of a potential rate move.
Total announced that three of its five French refineries were resuming operations after several weeks of strikes, which is a positive for crude demand, but work at France’s major crude terminals was still halted.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Monday and is seen as supportive of prices as driving demand picks up in most Muslim-dominated countries.
Traders said prices were also propped up by attacks on oil infrastructure in Nigeria, which has already sent the country’s output to more than 20-year lows.
So far, supply cuts like those in Nigeria or Libya, have been met by rising output in the Middle East, especially Iran, which has ramped up output since the end of international sanctions against it in January.
But Iran is returning to international oil markets more quickly than expected and is quickly returning to its maximum capacity.
This means that further disruptions in global supplies might not be compensated by rising Iranian output.
Oil’s price rally, however, was capped on signs of increased output in the United States where energy firms this week added rigs drilling for oil for the second time this year, energy services company Baker Hughes Inc said on Friday.
Rising prices have encouraged producers to cautiously increase activity. Drillers added nine oil rigs in the week to June 3, raising the rig count to 325 but still well below the 642 at work a year earlier, Baker Hughes said.
“While not enough to materially change the outlook for U.S. production … there are some early signs that rigs may be returning in the best acreage, namely the Permian Basin,” Morgan Stanley said.
U.S. crude oil production has fallen by 5.4 percent since January and by almost 10 percent since mid-2015 to 8.74 million barrels per day.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; editing by Jason Neely and William Hardy)
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