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Natural Gas Plunges on Storage Rise

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Natural gas storage levels saw a better rise than analysts had been expecting Thursday, pushing natural gas futures below the $4 level.

According to the Energy Information Administration, underground storage in the lower 48 states saw an injection of 87 billion cubic feet for the week ending April 9. Market observers anticipated a rise between 76 billion to 80 billion cubic feet, according to a survey of analysts conducted by Platts.

Compared to recent history, the total inventory, which now stands at 1.756 trillion cubic feet, remains 3.8% higher than levels seen a year ago, and 16.3% higher than the five-year average.

Higher-than-expected inventories weighed heavily on natural gas futures and the May delivery contract plunged 5.1%, losing 21 cents to settle at $3.99 per million British thermal units,

The bearish report came a day after the EIA reported a surprise drawdown in oil stockpiles, propelling futures to a 2% jump on the day. The May delivery crude contract shed 33 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $85.51 a barrel.

A firming dollar, which traded 0.4% higher against a collage of currencies on the dollar index, and a mix of economic data likely swayed oil prices during the session. Macroeconomic releases got off to a rough start with a surprising hike in new jobless claims , which conflicted with promising economic data out of China and upbeat domestic manufacturing numbers. Investors, however, managed to look past labor market weakness, focusing on the week's strong earnings results and stocks finished the session in positive territory.

Energy stocks showed slight gains, as the NYSE Arca Oil index added 0.2% and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index rose 0.3%.

On the Dow, Chevron (CVX) gained $1.01, or 1.3%, at $81.59 while Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) lost 35 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $68.26.

Natural gas shares saw a mixed session with Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Gastar Exploration (GST - Get Report) and Devon Energy (DVN - Get Report) down by roughly 1% or more. Meanwhile, Anadarko Petroleum (APC - Get Report), EOG Resources (EOG) and Delta Petroleum (DPTR) all gained roughly 1% or more.

In deals news around the energy sector, Apache (APA - Get Report) said it was buying fellow independent producer Mariner Energy (ME) in a deal worth a reported $2.7 billion. Mariner shares soared 42%, to $25.67.

Domestic coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU - Get Report) also raised its offer for Australia's Macarthur Coal to $3.8 billion, representing a 14% increase over its previous bid. Its stock shed 12 cents, or 0.3%, to $47.74.

Elsewhere on the Nymex, the May heating oil added a penny, or 0.5%, to settle at $2.25 a gallon, while May gasoline futures lost a penny, or 0.3%, to trade at $2.33.

--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York.

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