Natural gas prices have gone from a 2012 low of $1.84 to $3.50 at the end of February according to Tim Guinness of Guinness Atkinson Funds. If the rising price trend keeps going, as he expects, it will be good news for numerous industry participants.
In his regular energy brief, Guiness noted both the price increase in natural gas and the fact that he now believes the market is “about 1 billion cubic feet (bcf)/day undersupplied.” While still below the average $4.38 the fuel fetched in 2010 and 2011, the recent price increase could be foretelling even higher prices down the road.
For example, Guiness expects that “in three years the gas price will be moving from 20% of the oil price ($3.50 gas is like $21/barrel oil) to 33% (if oil is $110 that is $36/barrel or $6.00 gas). That is 71% up on the $3.50 today…” If the manager is correct, now is the time to start looking at natural gas players.
Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM)
By far the most conservative option in the natural gas space would be Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM). The company made a huge bet on the fuel source a few years ago when it bought specialist XTO Energy. That company brought both reserves and important drilling expertise.
Low gas prices have made the company’s choice look like a mistake. However, Exxon judges decisions over decades, not years or months. It has happily stood by its choice because it is forecasting a 30% increase in energy demand in the United States by 2040, with a good portion of that being satisfied by natural gas fired energy plants.
With a long history of dividend increases, a diversified portfolio, and a long-term approach, Exxon is a great option for conservative investors who want to benefit from an improvement in natural gas prices. With a yield of around 2.5%, however, it isn’t the most enticing for income investors.
Royal Dutch Shell plc
Like Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), Royal Dutch Shell plc (ADR) (NYSE:RDS-B) has made a big push into natural gas at what appears to have been an inopportune time. That said, the company ranks among the largest energy giants and it has about the same staying power as Exxon.
In fact, Shell is calling for natural gas to unseat coal as the second most popular fuel. That’s a good reason for management to stay the course. Note, too, that Shell has years of experience in the liquified natural gas space (LNG) in European markets. Although LNG is only just starting to catch on in the United States, its existing knowledge base should serve it well as LNG catches on.
With a yield about double that of Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), Shell is a good bet for income minded investors.
Linn Energy LLC (NASDAQ:LINE)
Linn Energy LLC (NASDAQ:LINE) is a limited partnership focused on drilling for oil and natural gas. About 45% of the company’s reserves are natural gas. If gas prices head higher, the company gets paid more for what it pulls out of the ground. While an active hedging program means the full benefit will only be felt over time, that doesn’t change the long-term impact of higher gas prices.