What's in Store for Encana in 2012?

Over the last few weeks, the price of natural gas has plummeted, reaching as low as $2.30 per million BTUs. A warm winter has led to concerns about the ability to work down the built-up supply, which is likely to lead to weak pricing. As the price of natural gas languishes, I can't help but continue searching for producers that might benefit from a rebound, however distant that might be. One company poised to benefit from higher natural gas prices is Encana (NYSE: ECA  ) .

Company snapshot:

Market Cap $13 billion
Net Debt $7.2 billion
TTM Operating Cash Flow $3.9 billion
TTM Capex $5.2 billion
Price-to-OCF Ratio 3.4
Price-to-Book Value 0.8
Recent Price $17.69
Dividend Yield 4.6%

Source: S&P Capital IQ

Before going into Encana's assets, it's worth noting that the company trades at low multiples of both cash flow and book value, which is always good enough to pique my interest. A 4.6% dividend yield isn't bad either, though it's worth exploring the effects of such a healthy dividend on a company with such heavy capital requirements.

Taking a closer look
Encana has a diverse portfolio of assets spanning many parts of North America. The company has 12 million net acres of land, including 2.1 million net acres in emerging oil and liquids-rich natural gas plays. Encana put $1 billion into liquids-rich and oil plays last year, and is likely to invest heavily in them in 2012 as well. Some of the liquids-rich areas likely to receive capital spending proceeds are the Cutbank Ridge area, the Alberta Deep Basin, and the Duvernay and Tuscaloosa Marine shales.

Like almost every other North American explorer and producer, Encana is participating in the shift toward liquids. Here are some things to watch in 2012:

  1. Encana should continue its divestiture program aimed at selling mature assets such as the Barnett shale, along with various midstream assets. These moves are meant to rebalance the portfolio toward emerging liquids plays and to strengthen the balance sheet.
  2. The company plans to pare back its Haynesville drilling program, where it had 20 gross rigs (11 net) operating in 2011 with its partner, Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) . This should facilitate the company's plan to shift more drilling rigs toward liquids. In 2012, the number of rigs operating in the Haynesville should fall by about half.
  3. While Encana's capital spending dollars are shifting away from natural gas plays, it still depends on natural gas for cash flow. Encana should enjoy strong cash flow from its natural gas hedges this year, with about 2 BCF per day hedged at the very attractive price of $5.80. The company's hedging situation does look much weaker in 2013, with only about 0.5 BCF per day hedged in 2013 at $5.25. That's still a very strong price, but it only constitutes a quarter of the hedged volume for 2012.
  4. Encana is hoping to complete a joint venture deal for its liquids-rich Cutbank Ridge asset. The company hopes to complete a 40%-50% cash-and-carry-type transaction, which should end up lightening its capital outlays in the future, as it hopefully sells off working interests in this asset for drilling and completion carries. That's a solid strategy for a company with so much land that it would be cost-prohibitive to develop it all on its own.

Foolish bottom line
It's still early, but I like what I see so far in Encana. It reminds me most of Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN  ) , another attractively priced explorer and producer with a diverse portfolio of assets in both the United States and Canada. The question for me is whether Encana is more attractive than peers, such as Devon Energy and pure play producers of natural gas. Regardless, it has landed on my watchlist, where I'll be monitoring its developments.

If you're looking for more ideas, our analysts have selected a different stock that they believe is poised for tremendous growth in 2012. Find out which company in our new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." Thousands have already requested access and it'll only be available for a limited time. Simply click here -- it's free.

Paul Chi is an analyst on the Fool's Alpha and Duke Street newsletter services. You can follow him on Twitter to stay up-to-date on his latest market commentary. Paul and Matt Argersinger co-manage the Street Fighter portfolio, where they look for cheap, unloved stocks with home run potential. Paul does not own shares in any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Devon Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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