Updated from 1:19 p.m. EDT
Energy futures closed broadly lower in Thursday's trading session at the New York Mercantile Exchange after the Energy Information Administration released natural gas inventory figures that were largely in line with expectations.
The April contract for crude oil fell 61 cents to $57.55 per barrel. Gasoline was 4 cents lower at $1.88 per gallon. Heating oil edged 2 cents lower to $1.69 per gallon.
The near-term contract for natural gas dropped 12 cents to $6.96 per million British thermal units.
The Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. natural gas inventories declined by 115 billion cubic feet during the previous week. Analysts at Barclays Capital were expecting a 116 Bcf draw on stores.
Gasoline has largely been the catalyst for volatility in energy markets over the last week, according to analysts. Wednesday's report by the EIA that draws from gasoline stores were in line with analyst estimates appears to have eased the volatility.
According to Edward Meir, energy analyst at Man Financial, energy markets are now firmly in the "shoulder months" between the winter heating season and the summer driving season. "This is easily the weakest quarter" for energy markets, Meir said.
As summer approaches, cold weather will be slowly supplanted by gasoline demand and the hurricane season as instigators of volatility in energy markets, Meir said.
Elsewhere, members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries met to discuss oil production quotas and decided not to change crude output targets. However, the group did lift its 2007 forecast for worldwide oil demand.
Meanwhile, energy stocks were mixed. The
iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil
ETF fell 1% to $35.51.
Carrizo Oil & Gas
reported that it replaced 607% of its 2006 production with year-end proved reserves of 210 billion cubic feet equivalent. Carrizo's stock rose 2.4% at $29.92.
was downgraded by Goldman Sachs to neutral from buy. An analyst at Goldman said that he doesn't think the company will improve its profitability relative to its competitors. Its stock fell 2% to $66.52.
The firm also downgraded
from neutral to sell, and the shares dropped 0.4% to $39.95.
( FTO) were both upgraded by Goldman Sachs to buy from sell, giving the stocks a boost. Marathon traded 0.5% higher at $93.90, and Frontier climbed 0.7% to $31.40.
Shares of coal producer
rose 3.2% to $36.33 after getting an upgrade from Stifel Niolaus from hold to buy. The stock's price target was increased to $44.
( GMRK) was downgraded by JP Morgan from overweight to neutral, and its stock slipped 5.7% to $41.49.