Monday, September 28, 2009

Natural Gas Prices Could Fall As Storage Hits Capacity

I saw this interesting piece out from Bloomberg today.

The steepest rally in natural gas prices since 2006 is coming to an end as the 400 salt caverns, depleted oil fields and aquifers used to store the fuel in the U.S. reach capacity for the first time.

Stockpiles may surpass the record of 3.545 trillion cubic feet by as much as 350 billion cubic feet this fall, Energy Department estimates show. Gulf South Pipeline Co. says its fields in Louisiana and Mississippi are so full that customers will have to pay penalties for exceeding their limits. With no place to go, producers will be forced to dump excess fuel on the market.

The worst economic slump since the 1930s will cut demand from chemical plants to carmakers to households by 2.4 percent this year, according to government estimates. The November futures contract will drop about 19 percent to near $4 per million British thermal units, said Stephen Schork, president of consultant Schork Group Inc. in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

“I don’t know where all of this gas is going to go,” said Schork, a former natural gas trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange, who in June forecast inventories would reach near 3.8 trillion cubic feet. “We’re a month away from significant heating demand. Something’s got to give.”

The November contract has climbed 31 percent from its low of $3.662 per million Btu on Sept. 3, after economic reports signaled that the recession is ending and fuel demand will rebound in 2010. October futures, which expire today, have risen 48 percent from a seven-year low of $2.508 in the same period.

Gas for November delivery fell 16.8 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $4.78 per million Btu at 1:25 p.m. today in New York. The October contract fell 26.7 cents, or 6.7 percent, to $3.718.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

There are many dynamics at work here, but even though we are getting closer to the heating season, and the economy has shown signs of bottoming, there is still a lot of natural gas supply out there. I see pressure on prices for a while longer, and a recovery in 2010 at this point. I still like it very much as an investment looking out over the next few years.

Disclosure: None

Finding "Value" Out There

Although the market does feel a little stretched, particularly in certain areas, there is still a lot of value out there. I continue to run across people successfully buying stocks at undervalued prices and participating in "Active Value Investing", or "Buy and Sell" vs. "Buy and Hold" investing. To me, that is the best way to play this market. Your belief in the long term strength (or lack thereof) of the state of the economy isn't affected as much with this approach. As opposed to a common approach of this being a good time to "buy stocks" and pour money into index funds or large mutual funds, active value investing is about timing stocks and not the market. Timing the market is nearly impossible.

I've mentioned Todd Sullivan and the excellent research he does on his site, and I wanted to mention one other service I've come across.

Arohan's Investing Life has recently launched the "premium" portion of their site complete with detailed analysis of stocks picks, complete portfolio, and real-time trade alerts. You can also interact with other members within their forums. I've spent some time recently on the premium portion of the site, and feel it is an excellent service for investors. One successful stock will more than pay for the membership fee, and you can try it for free for seven days.

If you have any questions about this service, I'd be happy to give you more detail. If you're interested in this service, click on the link and check it out.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Natural Gas Leaders Stepping up Lobbying Efforts

While I'm not fan of corporations gaining influence in Washington, I do believe natural gas has a great future in our energy plan. Anyway, here's an article I spotted about the natural gas leaders trying to increase demand and shine the light on Washington and what they give to the coal industry:

Chesapeake Energy Corp. and other natural-gas producers, unhappy with climate-change legislation they say favors competing fuels such as coal, are teaming up to tout the benefits of their product to lawmakers in Washington.

Chesapeake, Noble Energy Inc. and Apache Corp. are among 28 companies that in March formed America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a Washington-based group aimed at increasing “appreciation” for natural gas. Members of the alliance met with reporters today in Washington.

The alliance has “one mission: to try and generate more natural gas demand,” Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake, which operates the largest number of gas rigs in the U.S., said yesterday.

That goal may be stymied by climate-change legislation approved by the House in June, which requires capping carbon dioxide emissions and allocates a certain amount of pollution permits to industries for free. Gas utilities would get 9 percent of the allowances under the proposal from Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts. The Senate has yet to vote on the legislation.

“We did not have an active role in climate-change legislation in the House,” David Trice, chairman of Newfield Exploration Co. and chairman of the alliance, said of its member companies at the press briefing today in Washington. “We will correct that in the Senate.”

Natural gas produces about 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal when burned as a power source. Under most energy-use scenarios by the government’s Energy Information Administration, gas use would be flat or decline under the Waxman-Markey plan, Jim Hackett, CEO of Anardarko Petroleum Corp., said at today’s event.

‘Hall Pass’

The Waxman-Markey legislation’s distribution of allowances “basically gives the coal industry a hall pass for up to two years, and we think that’s not fair and we’re confident that it’s not going to lower CO2 emissions,” McClendon said in a speech yesterday in Washington at an event sponsored by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“My job is to make sure that policy makers and politicians are aware of the abundance of natural gas and the options that gives them, particularly senators, to take another look at Waxman-Markey,” he said.

Natural gas prices have fallen 35 percent since the start of the year. Natural gas for October delivery fell 11 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $3.65 per million British thermal units at 11:49 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The U.S. consumes 60 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Gas at $3 per million cubic feet is the energy equivalent of oil at $21 a barrel, McClendon said.

New Markets

If companies can convince owners of coal-fired power plants to switch to gas, and if they can create more natural gas-fueled transportation, there is a potential market for an additional 125 bcf of gas in the U.S., McClendon said.

An industry group in June reported that the U.S. has an estimated 1,836 trillion cubic feet of potential natural gas, the highest recorded level. About a third of reserves reflects potential gas in shale-rock formations.

More gas production from “abundant” shale will help reduce volatility of prices, in part because the onshore facilities aren’t susceptible to hurricanes as are rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, said Hackett.

Environmentalists and some members of Congress have raised concerns about shale gas and the potential effect the process of breaking up the rock may have on water supplies.

‘Crack Cocaine’

Natural gas has been “the crack cocaine” of the electricity industry for the last 15 years, Jim Rogers, CEO of utility Duke Energy Corp., said during a speech in Washington yesterday.

“Every time we need power, we build a natural gas plant, not a coal plant, not a nuclear plant,” said Rogers.

McClendon said the industry hasn’t been a good salesman in the past.

“We’ve always felt like we produced a superior product and that it would sell itself,” said McClendon.

Before, the view was that the “fellows that were producing an inferior fuel had to do all the lobbying, had to do all the hard work to make sure their fuel got burned,” said McClendon. “The world’s changed.”

“We now realize our fuel can meet a lot more demand than it has historically and we have to overcome the view that natural gas is scarce or that its price is volatile.”

Chuck Davidson, CEO of Houston-based Noble, said that approach marks a big change in the industry.

“It’s a paradigm shift for a producer to really shift over and think about how to market your product,” he said yesterday at the Johns Hopkins event.

I'm still keeping an eye out for good natural gas investments.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Plenty of Momentum Left

After what I'd call "churning" over the past week or so, the market has shown strength and has moved another leg higher. I still get a divided feeling out there. Many are still bearish due to macro events and extended valuations. Others are going with the flow and making money while its there to be made. And still others believe a full on bull market has taken off and this is just the start of it. I'm somewhere between group 1 and 2. I've held stocks and picked at a few positions, and haven't yet been selling into this strength (though I've been considering it). At the same time, I haven't added significant positions I plan to hold for an extended period of time. I'm definitely starting to subscribe to the "buy and sell" philosophy or active value investing. In other words I'm targeting specific stocks that are undervalued relative to the market, and selling them when I see a nice appreciation. I'm not falling in love with any positions.

I don't want to spend too much time on strategy, because I'd rather be talking about stocks. It will happen soon, I hope.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Contago Oil and Gas Results

Contango Oil and Gas reported quarterly and full-year results. Press release here.

Commentary by CEO Kenneth Peak:

“Despite the prolonged shut-in of our production this past fall and losing our offices due to Hurricane Ike together with the collapse in natural gas prices, we had a profitable and successful year. We repurchased 7% of our common stock and ended the year with 22 Mcfe of proved developed reserves per fully diluted share. We are debt free and have a $50.0 million unused line of credit.”

Mr. Peak continued, “Income taxes are our biggest expense, but it is better to have a tax problem than it is to have an income problem. I have been surprised that on-shore U.S. natural gas production hasn’t fallen off more quickly. The industry is not earning a positive rate of return at anywhere near current natural gas price levels and sooner or later, the industry must earn a profit if it is to continue to attract capital to drill. We will continue to be stingy with our common stock. Our fully diluted share count now stands at 16.5 million shares, as compared to 16.7 million shares at June 30, 2001. In the past two years we have issued a combined total of 67,559 shares and options to management and the board of directors and this fiscal year we plan to issue zero stock and options.”

I've been searching for alternatives to UNG for investing in natural gas. Gas prices have recently bounced, and I expect 2010 prices to be higher than current levels. Contango appears to have a transparent group of managers concerned with shareholder value. Also, they have virtually no debt which is quite rare in this industry. Thus, if prices stay low for an extended period of time, they are much more likely to survive and even buy assets at good prices.

I may be buying some MCF soon.

Disclosure: None

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Bubbles Will Likely Continue

Since this crisis started, I have stressed that we've taken no real long-term steps to repair our financial system, but rather put a band-aid on it. You can't cure a problem involving excessive leverage by more borrowing. The Pragmatic Capitalist has a post out that can cover it better than I could, so I'll just refer you there for the rest. Keep in mind, even if what this analysis says is true, it doesn't mean stocks are doomed. Stocks will always be forward looking and can dislocate from economic reality, for awhile at least. Eventually, things will balance out. Oh, and now is not a great time to start slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. Just throwing that out there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Update

The market continues to hold up even though for the past week or so its had a grinding feeling. Many stocks on my list have pulled back a touch even though the market has held up. The leadership stocks of the past couple of months (financials, tech, etc) are still strong and the market will hold as long as they do.

On the natural gas front, I have no regrets in getting out of the UNG ETF. There is too much dislocation from the actual underlying assets. I was okay with the high premium because as long as prices were this low, people will be buying it on the cheap and thus the premium could remain because of the lack of new issues. But ultimately, the closing of DXO did me in. I wasn't interested in finding out one morning that UNG decided to do the same thing. I'm still bullish on natural gas and am looking for good ways to invest in it while prices are still at these levels. If anyone reading this has ideas, I'd love to hear them.

It has been difficult to sit on my hands while this market continues to advance, but I still think its the prudent move. I may start buying here and there, but would like to see some more attractive prices before I move my cash positions to small levels.

On a housekeeping note, I'll try to post more. Its difficult to post much when I'm not focusing in on buying or selling specific names, but there are still items of interest I can comment on. I will be posting multiple times per day when I'm more active, and when time allows.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Senate must raise debt ceiling above $12T

I'm back at it after the holiday and the unofficial start to fall. Activity always picks up on Wall Street this time of year as hedge fund managers leave the Hamptons and come back to work. We'll likely see volume pick up among other things. I'm still expecting to see some weakness heading into fall, and have a few stocks I'd love to pick up.

I saw this headline out about the Senate having to raise the debt ceiling. This is dangerous territory. The dangers of excess debt are very troublesome. You can look throughout history and individuals, corporations, and governments that take on extreme levels of debt well, lets just say its doesn't end well. Here's the news story on this (From The Hill):

The Senate must move legislation to raise the federal debt limit beyond $12.1 trillion by mid-October, a move viewed as necessary despite protests about the record levels of red ink.The move will highlight the nation’s record debt, which has been central to Republican attacks against Democratic congressional leaders and President Barack Obama. The year’s deficit is expected to hit a record $1.6 trillion.

Democrats in control of Congress, including then-Sen. Obama (Ill.), blasted President George W. Bush for failing to contain spending when he oversaw increased deficits and raised the debt ceiling. “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren,” Obama said in a 2006 floor speech that preceded a Senate vote to extend the debt limit. “America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.”Obama later joined his Democratic colleagues in voting en bloc against raising the debt increase.Now Obama is asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling, something lawmakers are almost certain to do despite misgivings about the federal debt.

The ceiling already has been hiked three times in the past two years, and the House took action earlier this year to raise the ceiling to $13 trillion. Congress has little choice. Failing to raise the cap could lead the nation to default in mid-October, when the debt is expected to exceed its limit, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said. In August, Geithner asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to increase the debt limit as soon as possible.Changing the debt cap “does provide an opportunity to look at fiscal policy and what its failings are, and ideally it could give both sides an opportunity to think about what we need to do so we don't keep raising the debt limit,” said Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, a
fiscal watchdog group.“But probably as a practical matter, it will get more attention as a partisan back-and-forth,” Bixby said.When the House raised the debt limit to $13 trillion as part of a budget resolution approved in April, Democratic leaders used a maneuver known as the “Gephardt rule,” named after former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.), to avoid taking a roll call vote on the debt limit increase. The Senate isn’t so lucky. It lacks a similar mechanism, meaning each senator must cast a politically perilous vote on raising the debt ceiling. The Senate Finance Committee will “carefully review Treasury's request on behalf of the American taxpayers,” according to an aide to the committee's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).“Sen. Baucus understands the critical importance of signaling to the world that the U.S. maintains the confidence and security to continue to lead the global economy out of recession,” the Baucus aide said. “The request to raise the debt limit is serious and must be addressed thoroughly and in a nonpartisan manner.”The aide
noted that Baucus is pressing the Treasury Department to be more transparent about its efforts to pull the economy out of recession.“He will continue to demand the necessary communication and cooperation going forward,” the aide said.

Both the White House and the independent Congressional Budget Office last month said that they expect the debt to increase by another $9 trillion over the next decade. Should the Senate follow the House's lead and set the new debt limit at $13 trillion, lawmakers would probably have to raise the limit again next year, when the Obama administration expects to run a $1.5 trillion deficit.The business community has supported Geithner's push for a higher debt ceiling. Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it's essential to the U.S. economy.“If we fail to address this in a timely fashion, then you run the risk of having to curtail government operations,” Josten said. “The last thing our economy and the world economy needs is greater uncertainty throughout global credit markets.”Josten said that the high level of debt is a reality during the recession, but it's unsustainable and needs to be reduced by reforming Medicare and Social Security.“While we can freely and openly acknowledge completely and lobby to raise the debt ceiling and incur some more debt, the longer trends ultimately need to be reversed,” he said.Congress
raised the debt limit just a few months ago when it passed the $787 billion
stimulus package.

We've raised the ceiling three times in the past two years. This isn't a Republican or Democrat issue, its a Washington issue. Most members of congress have no real economic sense in my opinion and realize the problems their actions are causing.

How irresponsible is it to continue handing out money via various stimulus programs when our country is already at dangerous debt levels? The simple answer I can come up with is that no one wants to take the political hit for cutting back and thus making us endure some short-term pain for the long-term health of our country. This will never be accomplished by career politicians and Washington insiders. They are too worried about keeping their jobs. They are playing a game that has worked for a long time, but the rules are changing, and there is too much at stake now.

Anyways, there is my rant that comes along about once a month. Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Update on UNG

Just to update, I did sell the balance of my shares this morning, around 10.14, I believe. Investors are treating it as if its going the way of DXO, which hasn't yet happened. No one seems to want to hang around and find out. According to Yahoo Finance the NAV on UNG is 9.35, but that's as of Aug 28. I'd imagine its lower now. If anyone has access to more up to date NAV data, I'd be interested in it. Its just an unfortunate situation as these ETFs can be great, but are becoming bigger than they were designed for. I'm not interested in investing when the rules are changing, and that's why I chose to leave UNG behind. I like natural gas, and will be investing in producers/alt. fuel companies in the (maybe not too distant)future.

Beyond that, I think the market is turning over a bit. Doug Kass had a nice strategy piece he put out echoing the same thing. I'll be buying if we see better prices, and I anticipate that happening this fall.

Disclosure: None

DXO to Close Fund, UNG Next?

More regulatory trouble for commodity funds. Duetsche Bank announced it will redeem shares for its double-long oil fund, which I refer to as DXO, which is the symbol. These funds have been under scrutiny from the CFTC for owning too many contracts. I'm worried the same fate will happen to UNG, or the natural gas fund, which I own shares. They already halted new shares in July, and I haven't had a good feeling with it since. On one hand, a lot of people want to own natural gas because it has gotten so cheap, and the prospects are great (like I've said many times). But because of the halt of new shares, demand has held UNG at a large premium (around 20%) over NAV, which is around 9.33 as of this morning. If UNG decides to go the same route, I wouldn't be surprised if they redeemed shares closer to the NAV rather than the current trading price. If they do not, that premium could stay there awhile as a lot of people want to invest in this.

To make a long story short, I'm going to sell part of my position in UNG or maybe even all of it. This in no way changes my outlook for natural gas. I'm just going to find different ways to play it. I'm going to have to take a decent hit on UNG due to depressed gas prices, but I can make that up later as I feel gas prices will rise in 2010. I'll post when I make some purchases. Contango Oil and Gas (MCF) is one I'll likely look at, and surely I'll have some exposure if I decide to buy Loews (L).

Disclosure: Long UNG

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some Good Reading

I've been updating what I've been reading as my trading activity has been light. I should start a series of posts called "things to do while not buying stocks." That's been pretty much it lately. I continue to believe this market has been pushed too high given the economic situation out there. I'm still modestly bullish on a group of stocks that I've been profiling, and will be buying them when the market corrects. Here is a good piece from Bloomberg this morning echoing these sentiments.

Goldman Sachs Wrong on Economic Recovery, Macro Hedge Funds Say

Paul Tudor Jones is quoted in that article, and he also believes this rally isn't sustainable. Its difficult to know who to listen to amongst the so-called "experts" out there. If someone invests for a living, is successful, and has been successful for a long time, I listen to them. That's who I listen to. I don't pay attention to analysts for the most part or those who get paid to make projections rather than actually invest.