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

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

* EIA data shows first rise in Cushing stocks in more than three months

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

By Jessica Jaganathan

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

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

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

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

However, Brent crude oil futures for December delivery were up 2 cents at $109.66 a barrel. Brent increased its premium to U.S. crude to as much as $10.44, the widest since late April.

Seasonal refinery maintenance and shifting pipeline flows around the Cushing oil hub helped reverse the long decline in stockpiles.

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

"There are a lot of stocks of crude oil in the U.S. and all over the world and there is still a lot of uncertainty on a U.S. economic recovery as there are several issues with the debt ceiling," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan.

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


FED TIMING

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

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

Brent crude was supported by a belief the Fed might delay curbing its monetary stimulus programme until next year, which would 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 been repeatedly hit by theft.

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

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

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