SINGAPORE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - U.S. crude futures eased in early Asian trade on Thursday after an industry report showed a sharp rise in crude stockpiles in the world's biggest oil consumer the United States.
The contract also eased after prices rose overnight to their highest for this year on the startup of a new major pipeline, expected to help eliminate a bottleneck that has depressed U.S. futures for three years.
U.S. oil fell 13 cents to $96.60 a barrel by 0041 GMT, after rising $1.76 to settle at $96.73. Brent crude settled up $1.54 at $108.27.
* TransCanada Corp on Wednesday began delivering crude through a major new pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast, commissioning a $2.3 billion project expected to help eliminate a bottleneck that has warped the U.S. oil market for three years.
* U.S. crude stocks rose last week as refineries cut output, while gasoline inventories increased and distillate stocks fell, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed. Crude inventories rose by 4.9 million barrels in the week to Jan. 17, to 355.7 million.
* Iran's oil exports have picked up modestly in January for the third consecutive month, according to sources who track tanker movements, adding to signs that the easing of sanctions pressure on Tehran is helping its oil exports to recover.
* Syria's government and opposition, meeting for the first time, vented their mutual hostility on Wednesday but a U.N. mediator said the enemies may be ready to discuss prisoner swaps, local ceasefires and humanitarian aid.
* Asian markets got off to a soggy start as investors counted down to data on Chinese manufacturing, while diverging outlooks for interest rates sent the British pound soaring and tipped the Canadian dollar into a tailspin.
* The S&P 500 closed flat on Wednesday as a mixed bag of corporate earnings failed to give investors the confidence to push equities higher with the index near record levels.
* The following data is expected on Thursday: (Time in GMT)
- 0145 China HSBC flash manufacturing PMI
- 0758 France Markit flash manufacturing PMI
- 0828 Germany Markit flash manufacturing PMI
- 0858 Euro zone Markit flash manufacturing PMI
- 1330 U.S. Weekly jobless claims
- 1330 U.S. National activity index
- 1358 U.S. Markit flash manufacturing PMI
- 1400 U.S. Home price index
- 1500 Euro zone Consumer confidence
- 1500 U.S. Existing home sales
(Reporting by Manash Goswami; Editing by Ed Davies)