HOUSTON (Dow Jones)--Natural-gas futures finished higher Thursday, amid rising oil prices, despite a bigger-than-expected build in natural-gas storage.

Natural gas for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange ended 5.2 cents, or 1.17%, higher at $4.488 a million British thermal units. The front-month contract fell as low as $4.355/MMbtu after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that natural gas in storage grew by 58 billion cubic feet last week to an all-time high of 3.716 trillion cubic feet.

"That's 3 trillion reasons gas prices should be softening," said Pax Saunders, an analyst for Houston-based Gelber & Associates.

Analysts and traders had expected a storage injection of 53 billion cubic feet, according to the average of estimates in a Dow Jones Newswires survey. Market participants have been closely monitoring the weekly storage reports for signs that the brisk pullback in U.S. drilling activity is beginning to cut into supplies.

Thursday's report, however, marked the third consecutive week that the storage build topped estimates, indicating that supply remains strong, analysts said.

Natural gas in U.S. storage for the week ended Oct. 9 stood at 3.716 trillion cubic feet - 13.8% higher than last year and 14.6% above the five-year average, according to the EIA. Natural-gas stocks are expected to approach estimated peak storage capacity of about 3.9 trillion cubic feet before winter heating demand begins cutting into those supplies.

However, natural-gas prices were bolstered Thursday by an uptick in oil prices, analysts said. Natural gas will sometimes move in tandem with crude oil and related products, which can act as a bellwether for the economy and for overall energy demand.

"The fact that crude oil is up sharply on the day is providing some support psychologically," said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citi Futures Perspective in New York.

Meanwhile, weather forecasts were providing little support for prices.

The National Weather Service forecast for Oct. 22 to Oct. 28 calls for near-normal temperatures across key natural gas demand centers in the Northeast and Midwest. Colder-than-normal temperatures are expected in the Southeast and across most of Texas.

Mild temperatures can stifle demand for natural gas used to heat homes and businesses.


-By Jason Womack, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9201; jason.womack@dowjones.com