Let me share with you three disparate items from my news clip file that, taken together, point to game-changing opportunities for one of our top commodity plays...
Item #1: Smog is alive and well.
Even after years of progress, air quality in Los Angeles is still poorer than most of the United States. Much of the blame goes to the area's two major seaports (Los Angeles and Long Beach), where massive cargo ships spew fumes as they chug into the harbor. To compound the air quality problem, the freight trains that carry the cargo inland run on polluting diesel engines, as coughing residents along the route can attest.
Help is on the way. The city of Los Angeles is installing new battery packs at its ports to enable cargo ships to operate with their engines turned off. Even the regional commuter rail system is getting in on the act: Southern California's Metrolink announced in December that it will install new, clean-burning locomotive engines. Tucked into the legislation was a subtle mention that the transit system will also test "various alternative fuel technologies expected to be commercially available in the next decade. These technologies include, but are not limited to, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and battery technology."
Item #2: Sharing the wealth.
Much has been written about the United States' surging energy production, which could eventually make the world's largest economy energy-independent. Some pundits and politicians are of the opinion that Uncle Sam should keep to himself every drop of oil and gas that's pumped out of U.S. soil. Exporting the country's fossil fuels, they argue, will ultimately lead to higher energy prices and derail the new era of low-cost natural gas before it barely has a chance to begin.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy finally received a long-awaited study by a private consulting firm that looked at the economic impact of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.
You can read the full report by clicking here, but I'll cut to the chase: The consultant concluded that the United States will benefit from allowing LNG exports. (Look for at least one LNG export facility to come online in the U.S. Gulf Coast in the next couple years. More are sure to follow.)
In fact, the consultant surmised, the larger the level of exports, the bigger the benefits: "Scenarios with unlimited exports always had higher net economic benefits than corresponding cases with limited exports."
So much for the argument that gas exports would harm the U.S. economy. And it likely paves the way for a surge in LNG exports in the next half-decade.
Item # 3: Shut down the dirty plants.
This energy source is so 1800s. In November 2012, the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on coal-fired power plants. They looked at every power plant in our nation's energy system, and concluded that many older coal-fired plants will likely be shut down. Why? It would cost too much to upgrade the plants to meet increasingly stringent environmental standards.
The scientists found that such plants represent 59 GigaWatts (GW) of electricity, or 6% of the nation's electricity output. That's on top of the 41 GW worth of output that the utility industry has already earmarked to mothball.
Where will the nation turn to make up for this lost energy? Natural gas. This abundant fossil fuel has seen its share of the electricity-generation market rise to 35% from 25% during the past decade. That trend is sure to continue.
The cat's out of the bag: Increasingly abundant natural gas is playing a more dominant role in the U.S. economy. What's less well known, however, is how individual investors can potentially profit from this trend. For more on that, let's turn to Andy Obermueller, market strategist for Game-Changing Stocks...
(Note: You'll learn the name of one of Andy's favorite natural gas plays in the interview that follows. For a sneak preview of a presentation in which Andy talks about some of the other opportunities in the natural gas space, follow this link. The presentation will be released to the public on Saturday.)
Bob: What qualifies natural gas a game-changer by your definition?
Andy: Utilizing natural gas in a meaningful way in our national energy strategy is the equivalent of discovering a whole new color -- no exaggeration. It changes everything.
A game-changer is a technology, innovation or trend that materially alters the baseline assumption for doing business within an industry. Thereafter the question is one of scale: Is the industry large enough that such a major change will affect the value of the companies that are positioned to ride the trend? Well, here, the answer is a resounding yes. Widescale use of natural gas changes everything. Electricity. Automobiles. Chemicals. Residential construction. And, by extension, all of the industries that feed into or otherwise support natural gas. It's huge. It's here. It's happening now.
And the processes that make this all possible are themselves game-changers. It's impossible to overstate the importance of fracking and horizontal drilling in the fossil fuel space. Broader access to shale formations -- which contain scads of oil -- is producing an amazing quantity of gas. This rock is basically like a big sponge: breaking the rock -- that's the fracking part -- squeezes oil out. And gas flows out, too, just like bubbles come up when you open a can of soda. And the ability to drill horizontally exponentially increases that access.
But a key thing to remember is that horizontal drilling is relatively new. Most wells are still conventional. As this becomes mainstream -- and it is a long way from that -- but as it becomes mainstream we will not only see a lot more domestic oil but even more natural gas.
Bob: What types of companies stand to profit most from the natural gas revolution?
Andy: In any commodity play, the natural tendency is to look to the producers. I tend to look elsewhere. Natural gas is a commodity -- one thousand cubic feet of methane is as good as the next thousand cubic feet of methane. But if you can do something to add value to a commodity, you've usually got a winner. That's why Tiffany & Co. (NYSE: TIF) has outperformed most mining companies, and for a very long time. That's not to say that the best producers can't be decent investments. But to capture the really big gains, investors in this space are going to have to look for a value add of some kind.
Bob: StreetAuthority just published an extensive report that includes detailed write-ups of some of the most promising companies in the natural gas space. Can you tell us about some of them?
Andy: One of the companies is an infrastructure play -- without this company's assets, which they went to a lot of trouble and expense to build, the United States can't export so much as a Thermos bottle full of liquid natural gas. So it has a lock on a pretty good future revenue stream.
Another company makes natural gas-fired engines. These are for large heavy-use vehicles like semis and for light trucks like my beloved Dodge Ram. You can go down to the Ford place today and order a natural-gas powered pickup, and next year you can get a Silverado or Sierra from GM. These are the same trucks America loves and they're fueled by good old American fuel. You can write the commercials in your sleep. And that's before you consider that natural gas is a faction of the cost of diesel but can deliver the same horsepower. This company is in the catbird seat.
Another of the companies is actually getting this fuel to retail customers -- putting it in the pumps. The Energy Secretary is pushing this, and industry is clamoring for it. It's not necessarily high tech, it's just getting enough natural gas pumps and tanks in place so that John and Jane Q. Public can drive from Boston to Austin without worrying about where they are going to fuel up.
Bob: Will you name a favorite?
Andy: I hate to give this pick away -- it's so good. One of the companies I like best is an engine maker, a Canadian company called Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT). I've seen it display its technology to some very skeptical crowds at trucking industry trade shows, and in every case it stole the show. Drivers and fleet owners were lining up to try to figure out how to fold these vehicles into their fleets. It's no mystery as to why: If I showed you a car that had the performance characteristics of a tier one product -- a Ford 150, say, or a Cadillac CTS -- and then told you it ran on fuel that cost less than half the price of gasoline... well, I think my order book would fill up pretty fast. That's why I like Westport. It has deals with every manufacturer you can name -- and a few heavy equipment makers that are probably unfamiliar to you but no less important on a global scale. This is a quiet revolution, but I expect some pretty raucous profits.
The practice of fracking is not without its controversies. For a detailed (and civilized) look at the process and the debate, see this article from ScienceNews.
Note: For more information about Game-Changing Stocks and a more detailed discussion of the investment opportunities in natural gas, follow this link to the transcript of Andy's presentation. And if you're already a subscriber to Game-Changing Stocks, be sure to check out the special premium report, "America Will Run on Natural Gas: Seven Companies to Buy and Hold for the Next 100 Years."