* Russia and U.S. impose sanctions on each other
* U.S. Fed will probably end commodity-friendly stimulus this autumn
* Fed could raise interest rates 6 months after ending stimulus
* U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected but fall at Cushing hub (Updates with settlement prices, adds analyst commentary)
By Elizabeth Dilts
NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - Brent crude oil futures rose on Thursday as sanctions against Russia injected a new risk premium into the market and strong equities provided support, while U.S. crude fell ahead of the April contract’s expiry.
The United States expanded sanctions to 20 more prominent Russians, including allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the latest sign of mounting tensions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Russia retaliated with its own sanctions against nine U.S. officials and lawmakers.
U.S. equities, meanwhile, reversed Wednesday’s slump to rise after economic data showed stronger-than-expected factory growth. Markets fell on Wednesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve said its stimulus program would end and interest rates would rise sooner than expected.
On Thursday, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was up 0.6 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.7 percent, lifting Brent and crude oil products, gasoline and diesel, analysts said.
“This is a relief rally in Brent, RBOB (gasoline) and diesel thanks to the rebound in the S&P 500,” said Walter Zimmermann, chief technical analyst at United-ICAP. “The S&P is going higher because there was an over-reaction to the Fed’s remarks yesterday, and that’s giving relief to energy bulls.”
Brent rose 60 cents to settle at $106.45 a barrel, after touching an intra-session high of $106.75.
U.S. crude for May delivery, which will become the front-month contract Friday, settled 27 cents lower at $98.90 per barrel, pulled down by U.S. crude for April delivery, which settled 94 cents lower at $99.43.
New York gasoline RBOB rose nearly 3 cents to settle at $2.8955 per gallon. New York ultra-low sulfur diesel settled 2 cents higher at $2.9213.
Gasoline inventories at Europe’s Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) storage hub rose near-six-year highs last week, indicating ample supply and exacerbating U.S. data that showed domestic crude inventories rose sharply for the second week in a row.
Data on Thursday showed the number of initial U.S. jobless claims rose by 5,000 last week.
Societe Generale cut its 2014 price forecast for crude oil on Wednesday, saying prices have underperformed despite strong fundamentals.
Societe Generale reduced price targets for Brent to $106 per barrel from $108 and for U.S. crude to $96 per barrel from $99. (Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York, Peg Mackey and Shadi Bushra in London, and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore; Editing by William Hardy, Chris Reese and Lisa Von Ahn)