Sprott Analyst Has Zero Doubt on Higher Natural Gas Prices

Introduction: We talked with Sprott Asset Management Research Analyst Eric Nuttall about the natural gas situation in Canada and the fate of many CBM gas producers and developers. Since our last conversation spot natural gas prices have dropped by 15 percent. Natural gas storage levels are about 2.5 trillion cubic feet, some 423 billion cubic feet higher than a year ago.

Eric Nuttall told us, “Nearly all small-cap natural gas producers have taken it in the teeth this year. The price decreases in their stocks have been absolutely brutal. There are now companies whose stocks are down 40 percent year-to-date, and yet are still strongly growing production on an adjusted share basis.” How will the CBM and natural gas sector pan out through the end of this year? He believes the gas storage surplus will correct itself.

StockInterview: How are the lower natural gas prices impacting Coalbed Methane producers?

Eric Nuttall: For many CBM or shallow gas producers, this means their current drilling program is likely uneconomic, suggesting deferrals in drilling programs until natural gas prices strengthen. It is this very supply response that we need to balance storage levels, so it should not come as a complete surprise.

StockInterview: What, then, should investors do while storage levels are rebalancing?

Eric Nuttall: I would view this period as an opportunity for medium to long-term minded individuals to start building positions in not just unconventional gas producers, but conventional ones as well. The long-term fundamentals are still extremely bullish for natural gas. Many quality names are down 20 to 40 percent year-to-date.

StockInterview: How do you view the long-term fundamentals for gas?

Eric Nuttall: North American natural gas production has been in decline for several years. Most incremental production is coming from smaller, more expensive-to-drill, thinner economic, higher decline pools and reservoirs. Over the past five years first-year decline rates on natural gas wells have doubled to 50 percent. The base decline rate has also doubled to approximately 25 to 30 percent. Pool size has also decreased materially over that time frame. The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and much of the US producing basins are mature. Consequently, higher and higher natural gas prices are required to create incentive for producers to drill increasingly marginal wells.

StockInterview: And you expect a continuation of declining natural gas production? And that is that your premise for higher natural gas pricing?

Eric Nuttall: Conventional gas production has been in decline for many years, and the growth areas have largely been unconventional, such as the Piceance Basin (tight gas), the Barnett Shale (shale gas), and the Jonah Field (tight, deep gas). Also, many of the growth assets, such as the Barnett Shale, are already a few years into development, and because the wells have such a steep decline rate in the first few years, it is only adding to the depleting base that we have to make up. It is unlikely that over the next three years, the increase in unconventional gas can offset the decline in conventional, because the depleting base is so much larger. The major natural gas basins in North America are mature. Decline rates are increasing. Pool size is decreasing. Rig count is increasing yet production is at best flat. Until LNG imports increase in a material way, which is not expected for at least four or five more years, I think the case for healthy natural gas prices is intact.

StockInterview: Earlier, you noted drilling was more expensive.

Eric Nuttall: Over the past year, onshore drillings costs are up over 15 percent while operating costs are up over 10 percent. A recent Wall Street Journal article commented on how rig rates for the Gulf of Mexico, on very deep drilling platforms, are as high as $520,000 per day, up from $185,000 a few years ago. And the drilling platforms are still leaving the Gulf of Mexico! Although many are leaving the Gulf of Mexico to go to more prospective areas such as the West African Coast, the current rig situation is still somewhat tight in the Gulf. We have only begun to see signs of moderating rig rate pricing.

StockInterview: How would bad weather, such as a hurricane, impact natural gas prices?

Eric Nuttall: Short term, you would see both natural gas and related stocks surge. If a hurricane strikes the producing area of the Gulf, and we almost need one to – to correct the surplus supply situation. Initially, you’ll have an emotional upward response. Only after assessing the status of production platforms and sub-sea infrastructure would we know the longer-term impact.

StockInterview: Should investors be watching the Weather Channel and ready to phone their stockbrokers?

Eric Nuttall: Timing on any natural gas investment right now is tricky. You need to have a medium- to longer-term focus. We probably have another two months of volatility. There are two camps right now on natural gas. One camp is saying that due to bloated storage levels companies are going to increasingly lay down their drilling rigs, cut production guidance, and stress their balance sheets. Then in the fall, when companies set their 2007 budgets, they will be using low gas prices and presenting moderating production growth profiles to their investors.

StockInterview: What does the other camp say?

Eric Nuttall: Another camp says that the current natural gas strip already discounts the present and forecasted storage levels. Also, stocks are cheap on a price-to-cash flow and price-to-net asset value ratios, and now is the time to load up on the stocks. I lean towards this viewpoint. But I am also admitting that until the fall, barring a severe hurricane, it is likely that the stocks are going to trade sideways, as opposed to in any clear direction.

StockInterview: One equities strategist, whom we interviewed, suggested some time in August we might start to see the natural gas stocks moving higher.

Eric Nuttall: There is the potential that we might endure another month or two of flat trading in small cap natural gas stocks. By the end of August, it is likely that we will have had both a supply and demand response – worries of massive laying down of rigs, forced well shut-in’s, and overleveraged balance sheets should have subsided. Investors will begin to focus on the natural gas strip rather than spot prices, which currently are around $9.00 for the upcoming winter and $8.00 for next summer.

StockInterview: And until then?

Eric Nuttall: Until that time comes, I think it likely, as a group, the large caps will outperform. They are more weighted towards oil, and have recently been catching a bid on the heel of a huge $22 billion all-cash takeover by Anadarko of Western Gas and Kerr-McGee. Importantly for unconventional gas investors, Anadarko paid around $2.00 for 3P (Possible) Mcf, which is very healthy (Western Gas was predominantly tight gas in Wyoming and coalbed methane in the Powder River Basin). It speaks to Anadarko’s view of strong long-term natural gas fundamentals. These all-cash transactions likely set the bottom in the large caps.

StockInterview: What do you see for the near-term?

Eric Nuttall: Many people have been hoping that warm weather or hurricanes would assist in working off the excess supply, but Mother Nature hasn’t been terribly helpful so far this summer. It appears that we will exit the natural gas injection season at least 10% over last year. Barring any incredible heat waves or significant hurricanes, natural gas prices are likely to remain sub-$6.50 until the fall. Unless we have a serious hot spell or a significant hurricane, it is likely that natural gas stocks will be very volatile without clear direction over the summer into the fall. I would think not until the fall, probably September – October, when people begin to focus not on natural gas spot prices, but on the strip pricing for the winter, which is still over C$10. Until that time comes, I wouldn’t see any clear direction in the stocks. The market is now providing opportunities to buy companies with high quality management for below-average multiples, commonly measured on a price-to-cash flow metric.

StockInterview: Have you given up on the CBM sector or is it coming back?

Eric Nuttall: There is zero doubt in my mind that natural gas is an excellent long-term investment. We’ve peaked in our ability to increase production meaningfully, just as we have with light oil. I think for there to be an increase in long-term natural gas supply, you have to provide incentive to producers to go drill wells that increasingly have lower economic rates of return. And to do that, you need higher natural gas prices. One of the few remaining growth prospects in Canada for natural gas production is coalbed methane. At current gas prices, the economics are very challenging. So to get a supply response from coalbed methane producers, you again need higher gas prices. The current surplus in gas storage will correct itself, and investors should position themselves ahead of natural gas stocks reacting to this inevitability.

COPYRIGHT © 2007 by StockInterview, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Maximize Your Market Research With Google Trends

It doesn’t take long in the world of Internet marketing before you recognize the importance of good market research when it comes to the health and ultimate success of your business. While you can spend big money hiring people to do market research for you, or spend significant time and energy attempting to conduct it on your own, few methods are more user-friendly and effective than Google Trends.

Google is known worldwide for its useful tools, from its highly popular search engine to Gmail to a number of research and analyst tools. Google Trends is part of this family of free tools, and it tends to receive rave reviews from all users, regardless of the level of experience or type of business the user possesses.

Users of Google Trends claim it greatly improves their methods for conducting research online, which in turn helps them to be more productive and efficient in their businesses. They actually end up saving time and money as they learn about search engine trends on a global level.

How Does Google Trends Work?

Google released the tool to the public in 2004. Its purpose was to give users a method for viewing and monitoring online search results. Users can gain an understanding of how search results shift and change over a period of time. Another benefit to Google Trends is that it provides supporting information and relevant news stories that are related to the particular search term you enter. Instead of having to find the information on your own, it is all presented very neatly in an easy-to-understand format.

For example, after you plug a search term into the tool, it provides a line graph displaying time and search volume, as well as the countries, cities and areas that have searched for your specific term the most. By doing this, you can easily identify the types of products and solutions your target market is seeking. You can also learn exactly what search terms they are using, so that you have an understanding of how to best utilize your SEO tactics.

If you are interested in doing a comparison search between different terms, you can submit up to five words on the same graph by entering the terms separated by a comma. Being able to view the results for each term side-by-side is a great way to determine which words are going to be most powerful in your optimization of websites, articles, blogs and other online content you may use.

Far too many online businesses fail because they leave out the vital step of market and product research. Many who begin to use Google Trends discover that they did not know their target market as well as they thought. By using the tool to determine the best products and SEO terms, you are better able to meet your potential customers’ needs, rather than just throwing products out there hoping people will want them.

Once you witness the power of solid market research and product trending for yourself, you will likely never begin another product launch or website without incorporating them into your plan. The good news is that conducting this research doesn’t have to be difficult or even time consuming. Google Trends provides excellent search engine research with a few clicks of your mouse, helping you to propel your online business to the next level.

Market Researchers – Are You Interested in a Job As a Survey Researcher?

Market research analysts are responsible for determining what products people like to buy and at what price point they will purchase them. They will also gather data on the most effective means of marketing a particular product, and they will analyze past sales in order to predict the future.

Market research analysts will frequently use the Internet, the telephone, and mail, as well as personal interviews, in order to obtain information about consumers. After putting this information together, a survey researcher will then present this information in the form of charts and graphs to a company, so that they can then utilize this information in order to increase their sales.

Survey researchers will typically spend all day conducting surveys that will help corporations make positive fiscal decisions, and their methods of test taking will mirror those of the market research analyst.

The working conditions for these professionals typically involve strict deadlines and overtime may be needed. Survey researchers may also have to travel in order to conduct interviews in focus groups and face to face. A bachelors degree is usually sufficient in order to gain entry into a position in this field, although positions are fairly competitive.

It is also helpful for those hoping to enter the field to obtain internship experience working for companies and learning how to collect data, and most survey researchers are good at working with other people in order to conduct surveys and to identify the needs of potential customers.

In 2006, these professionals had over 250,000 jobs in America, with research analysts holding the overwhelming majority of these positions. Company management are the most frequent employers of these individuals, and professional firms are the entities which will usually hire survey researchers. The job outlook for these persons is expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next 10 years, as companies become increasingly competitive in order to increase market share.

In 2006, the middle 50th percentile of market research analysts made between $42,190 and $84,070, with survey researchers earning between $22,150 and $50,960.

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