Despite the fact that trading volumes remained light due to Passover and upcoming Good Friday, May natural gas futures shimmied up 6.3 cents to close at $5.872, halting a two-day stretch during which the daily changes were less than a penny.

The consensus among brokers was that the $1.18 run-up in crude oil to $36.15 Wednesday prompted the increase in natural gas. The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) crude oil inventory report showed a 2.1 million barrel decline last week. At 292.2 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are currently 20.9 million barrels less than the five-year average for this time of year, the agency said. Following the report, May gas futures jumped to a high of $5.920. The daily low was $5.760.

“The crude oil number came out bullish,” said Tom Saal of Commercial Brokerage in Miami. “When the speculators get aggressive and start buying, that thrust overwhelms any kind of selling that is resting on the market. That is how you get these big moves.”

As for the pending EIA natural gas storage report Thursday, Saal said that despite general consensus that is calling for a build, he is tentatively looking for a 3 Bcf withdrawal. “You still had some fairly cold weather out there for several days last week,” he noted.

Last year’s storage report for the same week revealed a draw of 8 Bcf from underground storage, while the EIA’s five-year average for the week shows a withdrawal of 14.8 Bcf.

While calling for a withdrawal, Saal said he wouldn’t be too surprised to see a build. “This is the time of the year when the market is transitioning,” he said. “The key numbers are going to be what we are going to be doing the next two-three weeks when for the most part we will be in injection mode.”

Kyle Cooper of Citigroup, said Wednesday afternoon that he is sticking with his estimate of a build between 4 and 14 Bcf for the week, while Lehman Brothers’ Thomas Driscoll is expecting a storage injection of 25 Bcf.

Tim Evans of IFR Pegasus noted that there has been some correlation between distillate data and natural gas storage data over the last month. “The surprisingly large drop in distillate inventories [reported Wednesday] is a warning to brace for a larger than expected natural gas storage draw,” he predicted. Evans also noted that heating degree data for last week was equal to the prior week when there was an 18 Bcf withdrawal. He expects a “bullish surprise” from Thursday’s EIA gas storage data.

“There are also intermediate to longer term reasons to buy, including forecasts for cooler than normal temperatures across much of the central United States next week as well as risk of an active hurricane season and a warmer than normal summer especially across the southern United States,” said Evans.

Evans sees a new layer of technical support around $5.69-71 and expects the May contract to first test the $5.93 high from Monday, followed by the $5.99 peak from April 1.

In observance of Good Friday, Nymex will be closed Friday. In addition, there will be no Access electronic trading on Thursday, but it will resume on Sunday.

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