Natural gas futures meandered higher following the release of government inventory figures showing an increase in working gas storage that was significantly less than what traders were expecting.

For the week ending July 31, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported an injection of 32 Bcf in its 10:30 a.m. EDT release, and September futures rose to a high of $2.828 after the number was released. By 10:45 a.m. September was trading at $2.816, up 1.8 cents from Wednesday’s settlement.

Prior to the release of the data, analysts were looking for an increase in the 40 Bcf range. ICAP Energy estimated 39 Bcf, and IAF Advisors was counting on a 39 Bcf increase as well. A Reuters poll of 27 traders and analysts showed an average 42 Bcf with a range of a 38 Bcf to 47 Bcf injection.

“It was a halfhearted rally that failed against $2.83, which is the next resistance level,” said a New York floor trader. “If the market gets below unchanged, I think it will test $2.78.”

Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective said, “The 32 Bcf net injection for the week ended July 31 was clearly below the 42 Bcf expectation and bullish relative to the 53 Bcf five-year average as well. There were no reclassifications of gas or other adjustments mentioned in the report.”

Inventories now stand at 2,912 Bcf and are 535 Bcf greater than last year and 64 Bcf more than the five-year average. In the East Region 36 Bcf was injected, and the West Region saw inventories increase by 2 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region fell by 6 Bcf.

The Producing region salt cavern storage figure was down 8 Bcf at 292 Bcf, while the non-salt cavern figure increased 3 Bcf to 800 Bcf.