Natural gas prices plunged on Thursday as traders considered a larger-than-expected decline in weekly inventories. With weather heating up across the U.S., demand for natural gas has moved lower.

May-dated natural gas fell to $3.61 per million British thermal units, down 2 cents for the session.

EIA data showed natural gas inventories were up 20 billion cubic feet in the week ended April 3. Experts were looking for the report to come in near the 13 bcf-increase normally seen at this time of year.

Working gas in storage was 1.674 trillion cubic feet, according to EIA estimates. In the East Region, stocks were up 6 bcf, inventories in the Producing Region were up 13 bcf and stocks in the West Region were up 1 bcf.

On the economic front, the U.S. Labor Department announced initial jobless claims fell to 654,000 for the week ended April 4, compared to the previous week's revised level of 674,000. Analysts had expected a figure of 664,000.

Continuing claims rose by 95,000, bringing the total number to another record high of 5.84 million.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported that the trade gap came in at a deficit of $25.97 billion for February. This compared to a revised level of $36.2 billion in the previous month. Economists had been looking for a deficit around $36 billion.

A separate Labor Department report showed that import prices rose 0.5 percent in March following a revised 0.1 percent decrease in February. The increase in import prices marks the first price growth in eight months.

At the same time, the Labor Department said that export prices fell 0.6 percent in March after edging down 0.3 percent in the previous month. With the decrease, export prices fell for the seventh time in the past eight months.

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