How America’s most reckless billionaire created the fracking boom [Guardian] – Bethany McLean on the shale industry & Chesapeake (CHK) founder
- in 2008, conventional wisdom was that 8$ was a natural gas price floor (it cratered to 2.5$)
- there was a real scare of US running out of gas before the shale revolution, with even Greenspan comments
“Landmen were always the stepchild of the industry,” he later told Rolling Stone. “Geologists and engineers were the important guys – but it dawned on me pretty early that all their fancy ideas aren’t worth very much if we don’t have a lease. If you’ve got the lease and I don’t, you win.” – McClendon, Chesapeake Energy founder
In my opinion, the US natural gas industry has become an interesting pond to fish in.
That other shale phenomenon, shale oil is actually the biggest risk factor for the price of US natural gas (i.e. cheapest fossil fuel globally, and cleaner than oil & coal). US Shale oil producers make their decisions based on the oil price. As a “side effect”, they also produce associated gas. This “free” natural gas competes with cheap shale gas producers in the US. Interestingly, the US natural gas price is becoming counter-cyclical via the worldwide oil price. As the oil price suffers from an important demand shock in a recession, and shale oil producers are swing producers of oil, this growing competition of “free” associated gas is turned off (hence local nat gas supply shrinks).
In other words, while US shale gas producers are amongst the cheapest fossil fuel producers in the world, most US shale oil producers are almost the opposite (the marginal producers that turn off if oil demand retreats). As “associated gas” production of oil producers is turned off, this is very positive for US natural gas producers.
As credit markets are already shutting for natural gas producers (have a look at breathtaking multi-year plummeting share prices of AR, RR, CNX), a recession will probably put a damper on shale gas drilling (i.e. capex) growth as well. Lastly, demand growth remains underpinned by being the cheapest fossil fuel in the world. Meanwhile, US natural gas equities are very cheap compared to their prospective maintenance cash flows (20-50% yields) and SEC PV-10 reserves. Both valuation measures give 0$ credit to the huge dormant assets convexity/optionality (no costs if US nat gas prices go down, but extra profits if nat gas starts rising). Of course these are commodity businesses with the usual disadvantages, except one! This idiosyncratic group of commodity businesses can’t be criticized as “cyclical” anymore. That is a game changer. More later.
“Simply put, low prices cure low prices as consumers are motivated to consume more and producers are compelled to produce less” – McClendon