Natural gas spot prices closed at $4.02/MMBtu (millions of British thermal units) on 3/28/13, up $0.10 from the prior week, the sixth week in a row that gas prices have rallied. Higher natural gas prices are a positive catalyst for energy stocks, especially domestic independent upstream names with a large proportion of production comprised of natural gas, such as Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Southwestern Energy (SWN), Comstock Resources (CRK), and Quicksilver Resources (KWK). Higher natural gas price movement is also positive for the US Natural Gas Fund (UNG), an ETF designed to track the price of Henry Hub natural gas (the standard benchmark for domestic natural gas prices). Last week’s higher prices were largely driven by expectations of colder than normal temperatures in the near-term and a larger than normal drop in natural gas inventories.
Over the past few months, natural gas prices were largely range-bound between $3.15/MMBtu and $3.50/MMBtu with much of the fluctuation due to changing winter weather expectations. However, since mid-February when prices bottomed out at $3.15/MMBtu, natural gas has experienced a strong rally and now trades in the ~$4.00/MMBtu range, mostly on sustained colder than normal weather.
Despite the strong rally over the past month, natural gas is still low from a long-term historical perspective. Over the past several years, a large amount of natural gas supply has come online without an equivalent increase in demand due to the discovery and development of large natural gas shale resources in the U.S. Many expect natural gas prices to remain relatively depressed as the development of the shale resources has allowed natural gas to be produced at lower prices.
Market participants and upstream energy companies monitor natural gas prices as lower prices translate into lower revenues, and, therefore, lower margins and valuation for natural gas producers. The below chart shows natural gas prices plotted against CHK’s and KWK’s stock price over time on a percentage change basis, and it appears that the companies’ valuation has tracked the price of natural gas quite closely.
Last week saw a move upwards in natural gas prices following five weeks of positive price movement. The strong six-week long rally is a positive medium-term catalyst. This most positively affects natural gas weighted producers, such as the ones mentioned above (CHK, SWN, CRK, and KWK) and the US Natural Gas Fund ETF (UNG), and investors with such holdings find it prudent to track the price of natural gas.
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