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Natural Gas Moves Higher

Oil rises nearly $2 a barrel.

Updated from 1:30 p.m. EST

Natural gas futures climbed Thursday after the Energy Department's Energy Information Agency released inventory figures for January that were lower than analysts had anticipated.

Stocks of natural gas for the week of Feb. 2 were at 2.35 trillion cubic feet, which amounted to a draw of 224 billion cubic feet from the previous week. Analysts at A.G. Edwards had expected a draw of 217 billion cubic feet.

The March natural gas futures contract finished the day up 18 cents from Wednesday's close to $7.89, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange.

"Given the consistent cold weather over the last week, next week's figures will probably be similar to today's," said Bill O'Grady, assistant director of market analysis for A.G. Edwards. "If we continue to draw on an average pace, we'll end up at about 1.565 trillion cubic feet by the end of the heating season. That is well above average."

Crude oil and its distillates retraced losses from the prior trading session, when prices fell sharply even though the weekly petroleum inventory figure was lower than analysts' estimates.

Around 4:45 p.m. EST, crude was up $1.93 to $59.64. Heating oil added 6 cents to $1.72 a gallon, and gasoline was up 5 cents to $1.59 a gallon.

Prices for crude have been bouncing within a $55 to $60 range in recent days. Freezing temperatures blanketing much of the U.S. have produced upward price support for oil, as have geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and Africa.

However, the inability of the member countries in the OPEC oil cartel to adhere to production quotas have alleviated some of that pressure on crude supplies, as have traders who are beginning to lower their price targets for petroleum products as the winter heating season comes to a close.

Analysts said that a new warm weather system now traversing the country from the West Coast is already reducing traders' focus on fuel inventories.

In the equities market,

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Suncor Energy's

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stock was downgraded by Friedman Billings Ramsey to underperform from market perform. Amir Arif, energy analyst at the firm, wrote in an email that Suncor has notable downside risk to falling oil prices, and that the potential for upward movements in its stock is limited.

FBR lowered its price target for Suncor from $85 to $75. Regardless, the rally in energy commodities left Suncor's stock up 28 cents to $72.72.

British natural gas producer

BG Group

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announced that its earnings in the fourth quarter fell 18% to 410 million British pounds. However, the company said it expects its production to increase between 5% and 7% through 2009. BG Group traded 4.6% higher at $71.41.

Shares of

Marathon Oil

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, the fourth-largest integrated energy company in the U.S., jumped 3.3% to $92.18 after announcing two new deepwater oil discoveries off the coast of Angola. The wells are expected to produce more than 11,000 barrels of oil per day for the firm.