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Shares of natural gas companies finished higher Thursday, despite a disappointing government report on inventories, as investors continued to bet on colder weather over the next two weeks.



ended up 27 cents to $81.77,

Burlington Resources


rose 35 cents to $56.52 and

Devon Energy

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gained 12 cents to $58.37.

The gains came even after the Energy Department said that the gas supply fell a by a less-than-expected 52 billion cubic feet in the week ended Jan. 2. Analysts had predicted a bigger drop.

"Gas prices dropped significantly after the government report came out this morning," said Michael Fitzpatrick, a futures trader at Fimat, who had expected a 70 billion-cubic-feet decline in gas stocks. "But they came storming back. People think that the cold is going to have a big impact."

According to the Energy Department, total gas in storage now stands at 2.567 trillion cubic feet, up 236 billion cubic feet from the year-ago level and up 196 billion cubic feet from the five-year average.

Still, natural gas prices closed ahead for the session amid forecasts for an Arctic blast this weekend, with record cold expected in New England, according to


Natural gas for February delivery rose 34 cents to $7.22, but is still below a Dec. 10 high of $7.55. "We are looking for gas prices to get up to $8," said Mario Chavez, a futures trader at ABN Amro.