* TSX rises 0.3% to 20,756.73

* Industrials adds 1.5%

* Consumer staples ends up 1.9%

* Energy declines 0.5%; oil settles higher

Jan 18 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index edged higher on Thursday, helped by gains for the industrial and the consumer staples sectors, but gains were held in check by uncertain prospects for the expected start of central bank interest rate cuts.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index ended up 61.71 points, or 0.3%, at 20,756.73, clawing back some of the previous day's sharp decline.

"Everybody is waiting for the first hint of a rate cut and now I think the market has to grapple with this notion that it may not come as quickly as they were hoping," said Allan Small, senior investment advisor of the Allan Small Financial Group with iA Private Wealth.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly 1-1/2 years. The data added to strong retail sales growth in December in painting an upbeat picture of the economy, and could make it difficult for the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates in March as financial markets anticipate.

Canadian retail sales data for November, due on Friday, could offer clues on the Bank of Canada's policy outlook ahead of the central bank's policy decision next week. Economists expect sales to decline 0.1% after rising 0.6% in October.

Industrials rose 1.5% and consumer staples ended 1.9% higher. Heavily-weighted financials also gained ground, adding 0.4%.

Energy was a drag, falling 0.5%, even as the price of oil settled 2.1% higher at $74.08 a barrel.

Birchcliff Energy Ltd shares fell 9.1% after the oil and gas producer revised its five-year outlook to reflect slower production. (Reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto and Purvi Agarwal in Bengaluru; Editing by Tasim Zahid and Alistair Bell)