Recently the Energy Information Administration (EIA) published projections for future electricity generation through the year 2040. While coal-fired power plants currently have the largest share of electricity to the US power grid, and will continue to have it, natural gas is projected to make large gains.
Chart Courtesy of The EIA
Having a glimpse of the future often can provide investors with the insight needed to profit over time. Knowing that natural gas extraction, transportation, and use will increase over the next 25 years gives a starting point for finding the right ways to play this sector.
Fill ‘er up!
The logical place to start would be the USA’s #1 natural gas producer, Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM). While the price of oil has been declining, and the EIA crude oil projections show that trend to continue through 2014, natural gas prices have been increasing. In fact, the EIA natural gas projections show a very bullish long-term outlook.
Chart Courtesy of The EIA
Knowing this information made the results for Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM)’s first quarter (Q1) of 2013 highly predictable — declining revenue from liquids that were partially offset by increased realizations from its natural gas operations. Though natural gas represents less than 10% of total sales that number should increase due to capital and exploration expenditures that were up 33% year over year, much of that focused on natural gas. The result is a more stable business with dual income streams.
Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) knows that the natural gas boom isn’t just limited to the USA. In fact, where the USA goes the developing world often follows.
Overseas, the Tolek gas field in Malaysia commenced production and major finds in Tanzania were announced in Q1. While U.S. natural gas prices have stabilized in the profitable $3.80-$4.20 range, non-U.S. prices are continuing to increase and these foreign projects will contribute heavily to the top and bottom line in the coming years.
Has Chesapeake bottomed?
A more promising but somewhat riskier play would be Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) which represents an almost pure natural gas play. The recent quarter marks, in my estimation, a pivot point for this company.
The departure of their founder and former CEO paved the way for a more mature and stable company. While there is no denying the savvy it took to create this business, maintaining a company of this magnitude requires a more steady hand.
Over the last 12 months increased revenue from the growing liquids sector has added to overall profitability and stability. Production in both liquids and gas increased while operating costs decreased. Now factor in higher natural gas prices and this stock could be poised for some significant gains if their new CEO, Robert Douglas Lawler, can capitalize on these conditions.
The street seems to be coming to this view as well, with average earnings estimates up almost 20% in the last 90 days for FY 2014.