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Minor Headaches Won't Stop Ultra Petroleum

Oh, those wacky markets. Sometimes you get surprised by just how violently shareholders react to bad news that really isn't that bad. Other times you can be surprised by just how willing the market is to look past some issues. So it was interesting to this Fool to see that the market took the quarterly news from Ultra Petroleum (AMEX: UPL  ) pretty much in stride.

Don't take that opening to mean that I thought Ultra had a disappointing quarter. It didn't. Rather, it was a good quarter coupled with some minor disappointments/annoyances that could perhaps have provoked a little opportunistic selling (opportunistic for those looking to buy, that is).

Revenue rose another 69% this quarter, as the company pieced together good production growth (up 28% on a gas-equivalent basis) with strong price realizations. Operating costs continue to stay relatively under control and the company reported earnings growth of 81%.

So what's to gripe about? Well, production was down sequentially, though that's not unusual given the operating conditions in Wyoming during the winter. The company also reported some delays in getting delivery of new rigs from Helmerich & Payne (NYSE: HP  ) , and that will constrain production growth a bit and move that growth to the second half of the year. Again, none of this is a big deal, but it's the sort of thing that could have hit the stock on a bad hair day for the markets.

Those who've read my earlier takes on natural-gas-heavy companies such as Chesapeake (NYSE: CHK  ) or Devon (NYSE: DVN  ) probably recall that I'm a little jittery about domestic gas producers for the near term. While a hurricane could change things up pretty quickly, I just have a few concerns about the inventory situation, recent efforts among industrial users to curb usage, and the supply situation. After all, most of the rampant drilling activity we're seeing onshore is for gas, and there's still more shut-in production to come online.

Longer-term, though, I'm a bit more bullish. And it's also true that Ultra has an almost unmatchable potential to grow production and proven reserves in the coming reserves. That merits an above-average valuation, but perhaps not this much above average. I like Ultra just fine, and don't think there's any pressing reason to sell, but if I were putting new money into energy, it wouldn't be going into Ultra.

For more Foolish thoughts on energy:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).

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