The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed a smaller-than-expected decrease in natural gas supplies — the season’s first withdrawal. Despite the negative inventory numbers, futures jumped more than 11% week over week, thanks to bone-chilling temperatures that drove heating load demand across much of the Lower 48.
At the same time, there appears to be some uncertainty associated with the extended outage at the nation’s biggest LNG export plant at Freeport. In this context, it would be wise to build a position in quality names such as Cheniere Energy LNG, EQT Corporation EQT and Comstock Resources CRK.
EIA Reports a Withdrawal Smaller Than Market Expectations
Stockpiles held in underground storage in the lower 48 states fell 80 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended Nov 18, below the guidance of around 85 Bcf decline per the analysts surveyed in major polls.
However, the decrease was above last year’s pull of 14 Bcf for the same corresponding week and the five-year (2017-2021) average net shrinkage of 48 Bcf.
The first draw of the winter heating season puts total natural gas stocks at 3,564 Bcf, which is 62 Bcf (1.7%) below the 2021 level at this time and 39 Bcf (1.1%) lower than the five-year average.
Natural Gas Still Logs a Healthy Weekly Gain
Natural gas prices trended upward last week, despite the lower-than-expected inventory draw. Futures for December delivery ended Friday at $7.0240 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, rising around 11.4% from the previous week’s closing. The increase in natural gas realization — for the third straight week — is the result of heavy snow and bitterly cold weather.
As is the norm with natural gas, changes in temperature and weather forecasts can lead to price swings. The latest models anticipate strong temperature-driven consumption over the near term (with extensive use of heaters across homes and businesses), which is a positive for prices.
Another thing supporting natural gas is a stable demand catalyst in the form of continued strong LNG feedgas deliveries. LNG shipments for export from the United States have been robust for months on the back of environmental reasons and record-high prices of the super-chilled fuel elsewhere.
Now, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, LNG has become even more coveted. As a matter of fact, earlier this year, the United States entered into a partnership with the EU to export additional LNG to wean the bloc off its dependence on Russian natural gas supplies. This means that LNG deliveries are poised to rise further, especially with squeezed natural gas supplies from Moscow to Europe, following leaks in the key Nord Stream pipeline.
However, the protracted downtime associated with the fire breakout at the Freeport LNG export plant in Texas has drowned out some of the positives as of now. The Quintana, TX facility — responsible for around 15% of U.S. liquefaction capacity — was knocked offline by the Jun 8 blast and is expected to only partially restart in mid-December after several missed target dates. Consequently, some of the LNG cargoes due for export are likely to have been diverted to the domestic market despite huge demand abroad.
Despite some hiccups in between, the natural gas market is still up almost 90% so far this year. While fundamental indicators continue to suggest strong price levels, the natural gas market is currently quite unpredictable and spooked by the sudden changes in weather. As such, investors are rather unsure of what to do. As of now, the lingering uncertainty over the fuel means that they should preferably opt for fundamentally strong stocks like Cheniere Energy, EQT and Comstock Resources.
Cheniere Energy: It is valued at around $43 billion. LNG reported EPS of $7.80 for the third quarter, reflecting a 42.9% surprise over consensus.
Cheniere Energy has a projected earnings growth rate of 56.5% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) natural gas exporter’s fourth-quarter earnings has been revised 69.3% upward over the past 60 days. LNG shares have climbed 62.4% in a year.
You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.
EQT: EQT is primarily an explorer and producer of natural gas, with primary focus on the Appalachian Basin in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In terms of average daily sales volumes, EQT is the largest natural gas producer in the domestic market.
The company has an expected earnings growth rate of 362% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for EQT’s 2022 earnings has been revised 13.6% upward over the past 90 days. EQT — valued at around $15.8 billion — has soared 107.8% this year.
Comstock Resources: The company is active in the Haynesville shale in North Louisiana and East Texas — a premier natural gas basin. As of now, CRK has a projected earnings growth rate of 214.7% for the current year.
The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Comstock Resources’ 2022 earnings has been revised 9.6% upward over the past 90 days. CRK shares have surged 124.5% so far this year.
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