Oil And Gas Take Center Stage

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  • Oil weighed on pipeline stocks even though natural gas, which is more important to cash flows, was sharply higher.
  • The spike in natural gas highlights wide regional price disparities and the ongoing need for additional infrastructure.
  • This was reflected by Williams Companies, which moves with crude even though they mostly handle natural gas.

If pipeline stocks moved with natural gas rather than crude oil, their long-suffering investors could look back on a good week. On Tuesday, crude was down $5 per barrel for the week, before recovering $2 by Friday. It's tumbled $20 since early October, bringing Brent Jan, '19 to $66. By contrast, the Jan. '19 natural gas contract stormed out of its $2.90 to $3.50 per Thousand Cubic Feet (MCF) range that has constrained it all year, almost reaching $5 on Wednesday. Rarely have oil and gas been so disconnected.

The energy sector moves to the rhythm of crude. It's is a global commodity, relatively easy to transport, which allows regional price discrepancies to be arbitraged away. Oil can move by ship, pipeline, rail or truck. Transportation costs vary from a few dollars per barrel for pipeline tariffs or waterborne vessel to $20 or more by truck. Although Canada's dysfunctional approach to oil pipelines has led to deeply depressed prices, in most cases, transport costs are a portion of the cost of a barrel.

By contrast, natural gas (specifically methane, which is used by power plants and for residential heating and cooking) generally only moves through pipelines or on specially designed LNG tankers in near-liquid form. Long-distance truck transportation isn't common because liquefying methane to 1/600th of its gaseous volume requires thick-walled steel tanks. Methane moved as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is only 1% of its normal volume (i.e. requires 6X more storage volume than LNG) which generally renders long-haul truck transport uneconomic. LNG shipping rates from the U.S. to Asia are $5 or more per MCF, more than the commodity itself. The 10-15,000 mile sea journey is worth it because prices in Asia are $8-15 per MCF, compared with normally around $3 per MCF in the U.S.

The result is

This article was written by

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Following 23 years with JPMorgan, in 2009 Simon Lack founded SL Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. SL Advisors manages investments in energy infrastructure, including the Catalyst MLP & Infrastructure Fund (MLXIX), the American Energy Independence Fund (USAI), and separately managed accounts. Prior to this, much of Simon Lack’s 23-year career with JPMorgan was spent in North American Fixed Income Derivatives and Forward FX trading, a business that he ran successfully through several bank mergers ultimately overseeing 50 professionals and $300 million in annual revenues. Simon Lack sat on JPMorgan’s investment committee allocating over $1 billion to hedge fund managers and founded the JPMorgan Incubator Funds, two private equity vehicles that took economic stakes in emerging hedge fund managers. Simon chairs the Memorial Endowment Trust Investment Committee of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Westfield, NJ. He is the author of The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It’s Too Good to Be True, published in 2012 to widespread praise from mainstream financial press including The Economist, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and Bonds Are Not Forever: The Crisis Facing Fixed Income Investors (September 2013). Simon is a CFA Charterholder and a member of the New York Society of Security Analysts’ Market Integrity Committee, and makes regular media appearances discussing energy infrastructure. Simon is also a contributor to Forbes.com.

Disclosure: I am/we are long WMB. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: We are short AMLP.

SL Advisors is the sub-advisor to the Catalyst MLP & Infrastructure Fund. To learn more about the Fund, please click here.

SL Advisors is also the advisor to an ETF (USAIETF.com).

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