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) -- Natural gas storage levels came in slightly higher than the market had expected, although prices remained unchanged Thursday. Crude futures, however, continued to fall as fears of a stalled recovery weighed.

Natural gas storage levels in the lower 48 states jumped by 37 billion cubic feet for the week ending Aug. 6, according to latest data from the Energy Information Administration. Analysts polled by Platts were expecting a net injection of 32 to 36 billion cubic feet.

The EIA also said storage levels, which now stand at 2.985 trillion cubic feet, were 5% below where they were a year ago. But stocks remain 7.9% above the five-year average for storage levels.

Natural gas futures lacked direction throughout Thursday's trading session before settling right where they started at $4.32 per million British thermal units.


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ETF declined by 0.7%, while major natural gas-related equities on the NYSE Arca Natural Gas index shed 1%.

Oil futures extended losses from Wednesday when

weak demand for risk and higher fuel supplies sent crude tumbling 2.8%.

On Thursday, an

unexpected rise in initial weekly jobless claims, combined with disappointing sales and guidance from


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late Wednesday, kept recovery concerns at the forefront of investors' minds, diminishing oil's investment appeal. The September delivery crude contract dropped $2.28, or 2.9%, to settle at $75.74 a barrel.

"The ghosts of a global economic slowdown are back and haunting the oil market again," said Barclays Capital analyst Amrita Sen. "Despite revisions higher to global oil demand forecasts by both the IEA and the EIA, fears of a slowdown in China and the U.S. brought back remnants of the past."

"Though the external circumstances are significantly different to that of 2008, fears of a global economic slowdown along with the sustainability of stimulus packages have meant that the battle between macroeconomic pessimism and oil demand data have now once again tilted in the favor of the former, with the triumph of fundamentals over sentiment proving short-lived," Sen added.

Stocks slumped throughout Thursday's session and oil-related equities did little to help. The NYSE Arca Oil index lost 0.6% and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index fell 0.5%.

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also weakened. Exxon dropped 0.3%, to $60.23 and Chevron gave up 0.04%, to $77.10.

Also on the Nymex, September heating oil lost 7 cents, or 3.6%, to settle at $2 a gallon, and the September gasoline contract shed 4 cents, or 2.1%, to settle at $1.96 a gallon.

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