Natural gas futures rose following the release of government storage figures that were on the low side of what the market was expecting.

In spite of falling about 3-4 Bcf short of trader expectations, the storage build was about double the corresponding rate of a year ago and five-year averages. The injection of 90 Bcf was about 4 Bcf less than market surveys and independent analyst projections. Shortly after the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 10:30 a.m. EDT release, August futures rose to a high of $3.886, and by 10:45 a.m. the contract had slipped slightly to $3.826, up 6.4 cents from Wednesday’s settlement.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for a build of approximately 93 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 26 traders and analysts revealed an average increase of 96 Bcf with a range of 89 Bcf to 106 Bcf. IAF Advisors was looking for a build of 93 Bcf, and Bentek Energy anticipated an injection of 91 Bcf. Last year, 43 Bcf was injected, and the five-year pace is for a 46 Bcf increase.

Short-term traders were optimistic that the market could establish a spot to work higher from, at least for the moment. “I think the market will try to build a base for a little while. If traders can do that and take it into tomorrow with a higher close in the $3.81 to $3.83 area, maybe they [traders] will try to work the market a little more and take some profits into the weekend,” said a New York floor trader.

Analysts saw a bullish bias to the figures. “The 90 Bcf build was bullish relative to the 96-Bcf consensus expectation and well below our own model’s 104 Bcf estimate, said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. “It was clearly a bullish surprise. At the same time, we note we’ve seen some volatility over the past two weeks, with the larger than expected 107 Bcf build in the prior week and the smaller than expected 90 Bcf figure in the latest report, making it hard to be too confident regarding just where the supply-demand balance is. It’s also worth bearing in mind that while it was a bullish surprise, the 90 Bcf build was still well above the 47 Bcf five-year average, and the larger bearish storage trend remains intact.”

Inventories now stand at 2,219 Bcf and are 561 Bcf less than last year and 683 Bcf below the five-year average. In the East Region 56 Bcf was injected, and the West Region saw inventories up by 11 Bcf. Inventories in the Producing Region rose by 23 Bcf.

The Producing region salt cavern storage figure increased by 6 Bcf from the previous week to 207 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure rose by 18 Bcf to 543 Bcf.