U.S. crude hits 3-1/2-mth low below $99 on stocks build

Reuters

* U.S. crude stockpiles grew more than expected in the weekto Oct. 11-EIA

* EIA data shows first rise in Cushing stocks in more thanthree months

* Coming up: U.S. nonfarm payrolls data at 1230 GMT

By Jessica Jaganathan

SINGAPORE, Oct 22 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil fell below $99a barrel on Tuesday to its lowest level since early July aftercrude stockpiles rose more than expected in the world's top oilconsumer, pushing the discount to European Brent to its widestin six months.

Inventories at the Cushing, Oklahama, hub rose by 366,000barrels to 32.99 million, after shedding 17 million barrelssince June 28 as pipeline bottlenecks were eased, allowing formore movement of oil out of the hub.

Overall, oil inventories in the country rose by 4 millionbarrels to 374.5 million, more than the increase of 2.2 millionbarrels forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.

U.S. crude oil futures for November delivery, whichexpire at the end of trade on Tuesday, had slipped 26 cents to$98.96 by 0647 GMT after earlier hitting $98.79, the lowestsince July 2.

However, Brent crude oil futures for Decemberdelivery were up 2 cents at $109.66 a barrel. Brent increasedits premium to U.S. crude to as much as $10.44, thewidest since late April.

Seasonal refinery maintenance and shifting pipeline flowsaround the Cushing oil hub helped reverse the long decline instockpiles.

Traders are now betting on a near-term surplus ofinventories in the United States, at least until refineriesbegin to rev up operations again.

"There are a lot of stocks of crude oil in the U.S. and allover the world and there is still a lot of uncertainty on a U.S.economic recovery as there are several issues with the debtceiling," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity sales manager atNewedge Japan.

"Fundamentally the (U.S. oil) market is not so strong buttechnically WTI could rebound today if the employment data isbetter than expected."

FED TIMING

Investors were waiting for the U.S. jobs data later in theday since that might provide clues on when the Federal Reservecould start to wind down its monetary stimulus.

"This surplus of oil supplies in the near term helped toweigh on prices but some support came from expectations that theU.S. Fed would not reduce asset purchases," Phillip Futuresanalysts said in a note.

Brent crude was supported by a belief the Fed might delaycurbing its monetary stimulus programme until next year, whichwould remove some of the worries about demand in the U.S.economy and beyond.

Brent has also found support from lower global supply.Libyan output has fallen sharply and Nigerian output has beenrepeatedly hit by theft.

The U.S. jobs data for September was delayed from Oct. 4 bya partial U.S. government shutdown caused by wrangling inWashington over fiscal matters including the debt ceiling.

Analysts polled by Reuters expected nonfarm payrolls to haveincreased by 180,000 in September after a rise of 169,000 jobsin August, with the jobless rate steady at 7.3 percent.

A senior Fed official said it would be "tough" for the Fedto have sufficient confidence in the strength of the U.S.recovery by its meeting in December to start reducing its $85billion-per-month bond-buying programme.

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