Mixed Messages on Natural Gas
Research Director, Mad Money
From: James Cramer
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 7:22 AM
To: Nicole Urken
Subject: CHK news
Throwing in the towel on nat gas
From: Nicole Urken
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 8:46 AM
To: James Cramer
Subject: FW: nat gas – state of union
Speculation that Obama will highlight nat gas in his state of the union speech and is scheduled to speak at Clean Energy Fuel plant on Thurs (via Las Vegas Sun): http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jan/24/after-state-union-obama-make-las-vegas-stop/
From: James Cramer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 8:49 AM
To: Nicole Urken
Subject: RE: nat gas - sate of union speech
Interesting--will believe real change when I see it
When one thinks of instances of businesses in long-term secular decline, a couple of immediate items come to mind: wireline businesses—think the rural local exchange carriers like Frontier Energy ; the brick & mortar electronics names—a la Best Buy; or office supply outfits—say, Office Depot.
Yet these pale in comparison to the secular decline issues we are seeing in the natural gas arena. There’s no question we have gotten a bump up this week—courtesy of Chesapeake’s decision to curtail gas production and President Obama’s incremental upbeat tone in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. But with nat gas prices remaining at historic lows, the supply/demand balance doesn’t point to any change in that trend anytime soon.
In other words: With gas prices dropping from just under $5/mmbtu earlier this year to under $3 currently (even after the uptick this week!) it is difficult to see sustainable upside from the natural gas-levered exploration & production companies (E&Ps). Even Cabot Oil & Gas, which enjoyed a significant run throughout 2011 due to its best-in-class Marcellus acreage, has fallen from its highs near $90 at the end of November to the mid-$60s currently. And Southwestern, which has among the lowest costs of the group, has suffered along with the price of the underlying commodity. We have seen that even companies aggressively shifting capital expenditures away from nat gas and toward oil—like Carrizo Oil & Gas and Sandridge Energy—have seen their stocks punished for the still-significant natural gas production (and funding concerns). This, indeed, is likely one of the reasons Chesapeake decided to curtail its natural gas production. The natural gas glut in the U.S. has even affected the service companies levered to domestic drilling—BakerHughes and Halliburton —who cited weakness in domestic pressure pumping in their recent quarters. In contrast, Schlumberger has been better positioned due to its higher international exposure.
So what now?
The shift Tuesday from Obama in the State of the Union is anything but inconsequential—that’s for sure. But from an investing perspective, it is important to remain wary of the nat gas group nonetheless.
Why Obama’s State of the Union natural gas remarks matter: Obama’s emphasis on shale development (and a clarification that we don’t have to choose between job creation and the environment) placed nat gas as one of the key “laundry list items” of his agenda. This shift seems to be a subtle bargain after the KeyStone XL project push-back. Though a decision on the proposed $7bn pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico has been delayed, Obama’s comments on Tuesday recognize the importance of domestic shale development. After all, in order to wean the US off of dirtier fuels and foreign reliance on oil, nat gas remains an important bridge fuel. As we know, the time lag and inconsistences associated with solar and wind technologies—highlighted most blatantly by the recent Solyndra debacle—beg for an intermediary solution (that is better than the alleged ‘clean’ coal).
That said, the nat gas supply glut reality remains: We still have a glut of natural gas with still limited means to use it domestically (due, to some degree, to bottle-necked legislation). The likelihood of the nat gas act getting passed through Congress remains in ‘hope’ territory. And because of that, the traditional nat gas E&P plays are stuck in no-man’s land—and likely should be trimmed a bit after the mini-run this week.
So, if the direct E&P nat gas names remain a bit risky given the still-present secular problem, how else can we play the glut?
One, the E&Ps that are later cycle transition names—ie have more of their overall production levered to oil. Examples? EOG Resources and Pioneer Natural Resources. With a higher portion of their production levered to oil, these two names remain well positioned in the current environment. Railroad Union Pacific specifically highlighted the strength of demand from the oil-rich shale regions in their recent, strong conference call.
Two, a more conservative, transport-oriented approach. For this, look no further than Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the master limited partnership (MLP) with 38 thousand miles of pipe for oil and natural gas. As the MLP acts more like a toll road operator, it has less exposure to the underlying price of the commodity. Plus, as highlighted in Tuesday’s "Mad Money" interview, the stock has additional upside from the recent acquisition of El Paso by its parent company Kinder Morgan Inc.
Third, some speculative bets. Cheniere Energy Partners is a play on the potential execution of the company’s plan to begin exporting liquefied natural gas from the US Gulf by the end of 2015. Given the oversupply in this country, exporting could become a very lucrative business if the domestic use of the fuel isn’t embraced rapidly. Chart Industries is another strong speculative name to play the global build-out of energy infrastructure, as GTLS makes the heat exchanger equipment that converts natural gas into liquefied natural gas.
Fourth, the late-cycle industrial play most levered to nat gas infrastructure build out: KBR . KBR builds the actual liquefied natural gas terminals. The company has designed over half of the world’s LNG production capacity in the last thirty years, and the LNG business represents about 30 percent of KBR’s revenues. More nat-gas related contract wins are a plus for this name, which is also levered to the health of the global economy.
Lastly, the transportation utilization names. On "Mad Money," we have continued to highlight Clean Energy andWestport Innovations, which are uniquely levered to the uptake of the fuel in truck fleets. Both names have run, but remain interesting buys on a pullback.
The bottom line: It is always key to be aware of how a shift in political sentiment can affect the stocks of the group. But, it is just as important not to over-read the implications of a shift in tone. Take a look at ways to play the still-present reality of a nat gas oversupply: EOG, PXD, KMP, LNG, GTLS, KBR, CLNE, and WPRT.