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.

Noble shares rose 81 cents, or 3.4%, to $24.98. Ensco shares lifted 93 cents, or 3.9%, to $25.20. Shares of Rowan gained 37 cents, or 3.3%, to $11.58. Transocean shares rose $2.42, or 4.2%, to $59.62

Dell also upgraded exploration and production companies Talisman Energy ( TLM) and Chesapeake Energy ( CHK - Get Report) to "Outperform" from "Market Perform." Both companies have underperformed during the recent commodity price volatility, Talisman due to its lower quality, higher cost operations and Chesapeake due to its elevated leverage and forced asset sales.

However, Dell said he expects the likely rebound in gas prices midyear 2009 and the growing appetite for energy beta stocks to drive a reversal in these trends.

Talisman shares lifted 18 cents, or 2.1%, to $8.96. Shares of Chesapeake rose 34 cents, or 2.1%, to $16.72.

While Dell spoke glowingly about many energy stocks, he downgraded Exxon Mobil ( XOM - Get Report), the world's largest publicly traded oil company, and Occidental Petroleum ( OXY - Get Report) as he views both stocks as overvalued compared to the market.

"(Exxon Mobil's) strong balance sheet and top notch credit rating have driven significant outperformance but catalysts for investors to put additional money into the name appear low," he said.

Still, shares of Exxon Mobil rose 22 cents to $72.16, while Occidental fell 23 cents to $51.31.

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