* 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; fall at Cushing hub
* Investors watching U.S., EU sanctions against Russia
(Updates with Brent prices increasing)
LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Brent crude oil rose slightly on Thursday after a gauge of U.S. economic activity came in stronger than expected for February.
The Conference Board said that its Leading Economic Index climbed 0.5 percent to 99.8 last month, beating expectations from economists polled by Reuters by 0.3 percent.
Brent was up 12 cents at $105.97 a barrel by 1441 GMT, after settling 94 cents lower on Wednesday.
U.S. crude traded 13 cents lower at $100.24 a barrel. The April contract, which expires on Friday, had closed 67 cents higher on Wednesday after data showed a drop in crude inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma hub.
Brent and U.S. oil were down initially on Thursday after the Federal Reserve indicated the U.S. central bank could end its stimulus programme and raise interest rates sooner than expected.
In comments that sent stocks and bonds tumbling, Fed Chair Janet Yellen on Wednesday said the bank would probably end its bond-buying programme this autumn, and could start raising interest rates around six months later.
While the announcement suggested policymakers are becoming more confident that the world's largest economy and top oil consumer can stand on its own feet, such a shift would drain the cheap liquidity that has boosted commodities.
"The Fed announcement boosted the dollar so, all other things equal, it makes sense that it led to a fall in the price of commodities, including oil," said Gareth Lewis-Davies, senior energy strategist at BNP Paribas.
"Beyond just today, we've seen Brent drifting down despite the geopolitical tensions, while the WTI story is focused on the drainage of stocks at Cushing."
Stocks at Cushing fell 989,000 barrels last week, down for a seventh straight week as a TransCanada Corp pipeline continued to drain oil to the Gulf Coast, where stocks rose 4.7 million barrels to the highest level yet this year, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed.
But total U.S. oil stocks rose for a ninth week, soaring nearly 6 million barrels or more than double forecasts as refinery utilisation rates fell to the lowest in nearly a year.
"We believe that the previously-ample stocks at Cushing are predominantly being moved to - rather than being consumed on - the Gulf Coast, with consequently limited impact on overall crude stocks," BNP Paribas analysts said in a note.
Oil prices drew some support from tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the world's biggest oil producer.
The United States warned that Moscow was on a "dark path" to isolation on Wednesday as Russian troops seized two Ukrainian naval bases, including a headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The dramatic seizure came as Russia and the West dug in for a long confrontation over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, with the United States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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 Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson and William Hardy)