Updated from 3:59 p.m. ET
Shares of oil companies lifted on Thursday as crude oil prices jumped on a report signaling an inventory decline.According to the Energy Information Administration, crude stocks fell 200,000 barrels to 350.6 million barrels for the week ended Friday. This went against analyst expectations for levels to grow by 3.5 million barrels, according to Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill ( MHP) Inventories have risen more than 30 million barrels in the prior six weeks. Crude oil prices jumped $2.16, or 5.8%, to $39.58 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price of oil has shed more than 70% of its value since its record high in July 2008 of $147.27. Shares of energy companies have moved in tandem with crude oil prices, from their midsummer peaks, tumbling to their dismal lows of the past several months. Bernstein Research said it sees opportunities for energy sector growth in 2009 and upgraded a number of energy stocks on Thursday, advising investors to buy into stocks with a higher beta, that is stocks with high volatility, as the year progresses. Considering grim energy sector market conditions, Ben Dell, an analyst with Bernstein, said "there is limited downside to the beta energy names" and that now is a good time to invest. Dell upgraded contract drilling service companies Noble, Ensco International ( ESV) and Rowan ( RDC) to "Market Perform" from "Underperform" as market conditions have led to a collapse in value for these stocks. He also upgraded Transocean ( RIG - Get Report), the world's largest offshore drilling contractor, to "Outperform" from "Market Perform" on its attractive valuation and on expectations that investors will begin to place long-term bets within the services and driller sector.