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Expected cold weather pushes natural gas up to 2013 highs

2013.03.12 - Nat Gas Prices STEnlarge Graph

  • Natural gas prices rose again last week, closing at $3.63/MMBtu on March 8 compared to $3.46/MMBtu on March 1.
  • Prices increased mostly due to expectations of cold weather and a larger than expected inventory draw.

Natural gas spot prices closed at $3.63/MMBtu (millions of British thermal units) on 3/8/13, up $0.17 from the prior week, the third 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 had been largely range-bound between $3.15/MMBtu and $3.50/MMBtu with much of the fluctuation due to changing winter weather expectations. This is the first time that natural gas prices have pushed past $3.60/MMBtu all year. Prior to this year, in from April through November 2012, natural gas prices had experienced upward momentum from 2Q12 lows, with possible factors being announced supply cuts by producers, a hotter than normal summer, and coal-to-gas switching (see “Coal-to-gas switching is positive for natural gas prices and natural gas producers” for more on this topic).

However, in the context of a longer time frame, natural gas is still near historic lows. 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 US. Many expect natural gas prices to remain relatively depressed as the development of the shale resources has allowed natural gas to be produced economically at lower prices.

2013.03.12 - Nat Gas Prices LTEnlarge Graph

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.

2013.03.12 - Nat Gas vs CHK vs KWKEnlarge Graph

Last week saw a move up in prices which is a positive short-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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