Spectra Opens the Profit Valve

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. Those who study history and find something they like, though, may just want to repeat it anyway.

Throughout the remarkable run that crude oil has had in recent years, from $40 to more than $120 per barrel, the companies that produce the commodity were not the only huge winners. Companies involved in a series of related services, including giant Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) , have also made their mark.

Now that oil is this expensive, all fossil fuels appear poised to join the commodities boom. Coal has dominated the spotlight in recent weeks with companies like Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI  ) issuing bullish guidance, but natural gas has been steadily building momentum all the while.

Spectra Energy (NYSE: SE  ) , the natural gas infrastructure play that emerged in 2006 as a spinoff from Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK  ) , revealed some impressive earnings Tuesday that lend credence to the emerging natural gas boom. The company increased profits by 56% year over year to $367 million. Every business segment improved in the first quarter, with the field services unit delivering the highest operating income growth -- 134% -- up to $192 million.

Spectra projects further strength and is backing up the rhetoric by increasing its substantial dividend again and announcing a $600 million share-repurchase program. Because company officials see increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation, they said plans are to outperform the initial earnings target of $1.56 per share for 2008. Given the demand for the gaseous fuel, I see a spectacular future for Spectra Energy.

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