Natural gas futures retreated Thursday morning after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a storage withdrawal that was slightly less than what the market was expecting.

EIA reported a 53 Bcf storage withdrawal for the week ending March 10 in its 10:30 a.m. EDT release, about 3 Bcf less than industry estimates. April futures fell to $2.888, and by 10:45 a.m. April was trading at $2.914, down 6.7 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

Prior to the report, Ritterbusch and Associates was looking for a 52 Bcf withdrawal, and analysts at ICAP Energy calculated a 57 Bcf decline. A Reuters survey of 20 traders and analysts showed an average 56 Bcf pull with a range of 47 Bcf to 72 Bcf. Last year a measly 9 Bcf was withdrawn, but the five-year pace for the week is an 85 Bcf pull.

"We were looking for a 56 Bcf withdrawal, and the 53 Bcf falls right in the scheme of things," said a New York floor trader. "It looks like $3 is a good resistance number and $2.85 support with $2.75 below that."

"The net withdrawal of 53 Bcf was less than the consensus for a 56-57 Bcf draw and below the 85 Bcf five-year average decline, and so moderately bearish," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "While this implies a somewhat weaker overall supply-demand balance, in the current era it's hard to tell whether a shift in trade flows, such as a delay in LNG export shipments, may have been the cause."

Others were also in the bear camp. "We believe the storage report will be viewed as slightly negative,” said Randy Ollenberger, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets. "Storage is trending below last year's levels; however, rising associated gas production should keep U.S. storage levels at or above five-year averages assuming normal weather."

Inventories now stand at 2,242 Bcf and are 236 Bcf less than last year and 395 Bcf greater than the five-year average. In the East Region 36 Bcf was withdrawn and the Midwest Region saw inventories decrease by 22 Bcf. Stocks in the Mountain Region fell 2 Bcf, and the Pacific Region was up 2 Bcf. The South Central Region added 5 Bcf.

Salt Cavern storage was down 1 Bcf at 325 Bcf and non-salt storage was up 7 Bcf to 653 Bcf.