If you believe that an energy policy in the United States can happen in the coming years, there is almost no way that natural gas can be ignored. The massive shale plays, the nat-gas acquisitions by oil companies, the move by T. Boone Pickens and others to convert truck fleets to compressed LNG, and the needs of trading partner nations all point to natural gas being a key factor in the years ahead. Yet today’s natural gas inventory data and a weakening economy and stock market have all actually taken natural gas back under $4.00/tcf for the first time since early in April.
This poses a severe financial risk for many companies who are dependent upon the future of natural gas. We are tracking United States Natural Gas (NYSE: UNG), Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK), Encana Corp. (NYSE: ECA), Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN), EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG), and Questar Corp. (NYSE: STR). Also being tracked are Cheniere Energy, Inc. (AMEX: LNG), Cheniere Energy Partners LP. (AMEX: CQP), Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (NASDAQ: CLNE) and Westport Innovations Inc. (NASDAQ: WPRT). The losses are brutal, and the weak stock market is not helping things.
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United States Natural Gas (NYSE: UNG) has to be one of the worst exchange-traded products out there because of erosion into roll-dates in the futures contracts. Still, it is actively traded because investors can easily get exposure to natural gas on an intraday basis this way in their normal equity accounts. This trust is down 3.6% at $9.97 and a new 52-week low of $9.94 was just hit this morning.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) includes XTO after its huge natural gas acquisition. Shares are down 1.3% at $76.71 and the 52-week range is $55.94 to $88.23. Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) is the largest pure-play for natural gas and it recently even started a venture fund to drive nat-gas interests as part of the next energy policy. Chesapeake is down a sharp 5.3% at $32.42 and the 52-week range is $19.68 to $35.95.
Encana Corp. (NYSE: ECA) is down 2.9% at $27.40 and close to 52-week lows as that range is $26.02 to $35.25. Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) is down 4.3% at $72.55 but its 52-week range is $59.07 to $93.56. EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) is down 4.1% at $93.96 versus a 52-week range of $85.42 to $121.44. Questar Corp. (NYSE: STR) is down only 1.7% at $17.95 and its 52-week range is $16.03 to $19.06.
Cheniere Energy, Inc. (AMEX: LNG), a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal operation, is down almost 9% at $8.89 versus a 52-week range of $2.30 to $12.81. Its limited partnership is called Cheniere Energy Partners LP. (AMEX: CQP) and that is down ‘only 3.3%’ at $16.55 versus a 52-week range of $15.05 to $24.54.
Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (NASDAQ: CLNE) is T. Boone Pickens’ ‘gas station’ play that he wants to serve the nat-gas trucks as the refuel-stop on major trucking routes. Shares are down more than 4% at $14.58 versus a 52-week range of $11.75 to $17.85.
Westport Innovations Inc. (NASDAQ: WPRT) is down 4.5% at $22.74 versus a 52-week range of $14.25 to $28.05. The company specializes in alternative energy engines for trucks, particular those using compressed natural gas.
Dow Jones was calling for a build of 36 billion cubic feet, but the weekly gain reported by the Energy Information Administration was 44 billion cubic feet and U.S. inventories now sit at 2.758 trillion cubic feet. What is interesting is that Dow Jones noted that this inventory build is still 2.4% under a 5-year average and more than 6% under year-ago levels.
Right now it feels like trying to find the bottom in selling levels is a bit like catching a falling knife. It is just not very rewarding. Maybe a bottom is close and maybe not in these stocks, but one thing is a sure bet: Natural gas dipping back under $4.00/tcf does pose a severe financial risk to the business viability of producing and even transporting natural gas.
Natural gas is not alone in its misery today. Oil is back under $91.00 per barrel as well.
JON C. OGG