Natural gas prices tumbled Thursday after the government said supplies dropped less than expected last week.
Natural gas, which is used to heat homes and power energy generators, has been in heavy use most of the winter as storms covered much of the Midwest and Northeast with snow. But the U.S. is consuming less as the weather warms, and the Energy Information Administration said the nation's storage level is still higher than the five-year average.
Inventories held in underground storage dropped by 116 billion cubic feet last week. Analysts expected a drop of between 128 billion and 132 billion cubic feet.
Natural gas prices fell after the report. The contract for April delivery lost 18.2 cents, nearly 4 percent, to settle at $4.575 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices dropped as low as $4.556 earlier in the day, the lowest ever for the April contract.
Elsewhere, oil prices fell as the dollar increased against other major currencies. Oil, which is priced in dollars, tends to drop as the dollar rises and makes crude barrels tougher to buy for investors holding foreign money.
Benchmark crude for April delivery fell 66 cents to settle at $80.21 a barrel on the Nymex as the U.S. Dollar Index gained 0.83 percent.
At the pump, retail gas prices ticked higher overnight to a new national average of $2.706 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular unleaded is 4.5 cents more expensive than it was a month ago and 77.3 cents more expensive than last year.
In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil fell 2.5 cents to settle at $2.0687 a gallon, and gasoline lost 1.39 cents to settle at $2.2337 a gallon. In London, Brent crude gave up 71 cents to settle at $78.54 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.
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