SEOUL, Sept 13 (Reuters) - U.S. crude futures were steady around $97 a barrel in early Asian trade on Thursday, with investor hopes for further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve tempered by an unexpected rise in U.S. crude inventory.
The market was also supported by geopolitical concerns in the Middle East and a German court ruling affirming the legality of the euro zone bailout fund.
* U.S. October crude had lost 2 cents to $96.99 by 0054 GMT. It settled down 16 cents at $97.01 a barrel on Wednesday.
* Brent October crude gained 3 cents to $115.99 a barrel, after settling up 56 cents at $115.96, ahead of the contract’s Thursday expiration.
* Expectations the Fed will step in with additional stimulus at the end of a two-day meeting that began on Wednesday have intensified since last week’s disappointing August U.S. jobs figures.
A Reuters poll showed that of the 51 economists who put the chances of quantitative easing, or QE3, at greater than 50 percent, 39 expected the Fed to act this week.
* U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose 1.99 million barrels to 359.09 million barrels in the week ended Sept. 7, with imports jumping, the Energy Information Administration reported on Wednesday. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a draw of 2.6 million barrels.
* Germany’s Constitutional Court gave the green light for the country to ratify Europe’s new bailout fund, boosting hopes that the single currency bloc is finally putting in place the tools to resolve its three-year-old debt crisis.
* Global oil demand is likely to be muted over the next year and supply and inventory levels look comfortable, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a monthly report, implying there is no need to release emergency stocks to curb oil prices.
The United States has been considering an emergency stocks release to help suppress high oil prices, and other IEA members such as France and Britain could join the move. But the IEA and the European Union, led by Germany, have opposed a coordinated release of stocks.
* Tensions in the Middle East and North Africa intensified as the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car, a Libyan official said.
* While the West’s dispute with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program drags on, two senators asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to push countries to make more cuts in Iranian oil purchases before they receive exemptions from U.S. penalties for doing business with the OPEC nation.
* Wall Street ended little changed on Wednesday as stocks got a lift early on the news of Germany’s court ruling but the gains faded as investors shifted their attention to the Fed.
* Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average opened down 0.11 percent at 8,950.01 on Thursday, while the broader Topix shed 0.08 percent to 741.25.
* The following data is expected on Thursday (GMT):
1230 U.S. Weekly jobless claims
1230 U.S. PPI August
1630 U.S. FOMC releases statement after policy meeting
1800 U.S. Federal budget for August
1815 U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke holds news
conference (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Joseph Radford)