* U.S. crude inventories up, gasoline down -EIA
* U.S. economy stumbles in first quarter, but prospects brighter
* Ukraine separatists down army helicopter, 14 killed
* Brent poised to gain 2 percent in May, U.S. oil to rise 3.7 pct
By Manash Goswami
SINGAPORE, May 30 (Reuters) - Brent futures held above $110 a barrel on Friday as a steep drawdown in U.S. gasoline stockpiles revived hopes of steady demand growth in the world’s top oil consumer, with geopolitical tensions over Ukraine providing additional support.
U.S. gasoline stocks fell 1.8 million barrels, data from the Energy Information Administration showed, compared with expectations of a 300,000-barrel gain, indicating a strong start to the summer driving season.
Investors still caution that oil may be prone to a correction following gains in the last few weeks on supply disruption concerns.
Brent crude gained 7 cents to $110.04 a barrel by 0252 GMT, and is set to rise nearly 2 percent for the month. U.S. oil slipped 21 cents to $103.37, partly under pressure from an overall rise in U.S. crude stocks and gains overnight. It is set to rise nearly 4 percent this month.
“Better gasoline demand bodes well for the U.S. economy,” said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo. “Overall, I see oil supported by geopolitical tensions and an improving demand outlook.”
Total U.S. crude inventories rose 1.7 million barrels in the last week, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 500,000 barrels. But crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell 1.53 million barrels, EIA said.
Oil and the broader financial market ignored U.S. data that showed the world’s biggest economy contracted for the first time in three years in the first quarter and focused on signs of a rebound in the second quarter.
In Ukraine, investors worry that any worsening in the crisis will further escalate tensions between Russia, the world’s second-largest oil exporter, and the West.
Pro-Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter on Thursday, killing 14 soldiers including a general, as government forces pressed ahead with an offensive to crush rebellions in the east swiftly following the election of a new president.
Concerns of continued disruption to north African exporter Libya were countered by expectations of rising Middle East supply.
Iran’s crude oil exports increased in May after a decline in April, according to sources who track tanker movements. Iran’s exports have averaged 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd) in May, one of the sources said. That represents an increase from 1.1 million bpd in April, as estimated by the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
Brent is expected to break support at $109.41 and fall further to $108.43, while U.S. oil is expected to retest support at $102.67, according to Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao. (Reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Richard Pullin)