Why Do Investors Hate This Top-Traded Natural Gas Stock?

Natural gas exploration and production company Quicksilver Resources (NYSE: KWK  ) is a day trader's dream. With millions of shares being traded daily, and more than 20 million shares trading hands last Friday, Quicksilver is a company the market likes to move. Not only are traders buying and selling shares of Quicksilver in rapid-fire action but many of those traders have made bearish bets on the company as evidenced by the 16.8% of its outstanding shares being sold short. 

Those taking bearish bets have to be getting nervous considering that shares are up nearly 40% in the past week. That being said, bearish themes abound and are the force driving shares down 80% over the past two years, taking the company's market cap below $500 million. With all the heavy trading surrounding this stock let's take a look at why its both hated and loved by traders. 

Why it's hated
If there are two things investors hate these days its energy companies that produce a lot of natural gas and have a debt-laden balance sheet. That's a big problem for Quicksilver as 72% of its production is natural gas and the company's balance sheet is weighted down by $2.1 billion of debt. Liquidity concerns are a bigger problem for Quicksilver and are a big reason why shares hit a low of $1.67 just on March 6.

The combination of a high debt burden and a focus on natural gas production has been the downfall of another hated natural gas stock: Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) . The company seems to have provided the blueprint followed by so many in the industry, including Quicksilver. While there are a lot of similarities between the two, Chesapeake seems to be a bit further along in its plan to grow its liquids production. The company is spending 85% of its 2013 capital budget to grow liquids production to 26% of total production, while Quicksilver will still be at just 18% liquids production in 2013. Still, there is a silver lining here that investors need to keep an eye on. 

Why it should be loved
Quicksilver is well aware of its liquidity issues. CEO Glenn Darden has said that his company's "... top priorities are to improve liquidity through asset sales, joint ventures and other measures, further reduce the overall company cost structure, and match capital spending to operational cash flow." To accomplish this, the company plans to only spend about $120 million in capital for 2013, which is a substantial cut from the $270 million it spent in 2012. The key here is that the company has resolved to limit its spending to its expected cash flow. It's also promised to reduce spending further if it needs to preserve liquidity. 

One way the company will accomplish this is by concluding its advanced negotiations to monetize its Barnett Shale assets with a deal. The company is considering either an asset sale or an MLP for the assets and is hoping to unlock the value of those assets. Quicksilver is also looking for a joint venture partner of its Horn River Basin assets.

Outside of unlocking some value by shedding assets, Quicksilver is looking to grow its oil and liquids production. The most promising of its developing oil plays is its Niobrara acreage. The company just closed an acquisition and exploration agreement with Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) that covered 320,000 acres. The company got a small cash infusion and a world-class partner in the deal. It's also looking for another third-party joint venture partner to help further fund its development. If Quicksilver can strike oil in the Niobrara it'll really boost its liquids production and set investor's minds at ease.

My Foolish take
Given that the debt to capital ratio is four-to-one, I'd be leery of going long as the company doesn't have a lot of financial flexibility. However, there are enough potential positives to quickly burn any short position. Long-term investors are better just staying away from this one and watching from the sidelines. If it can execute on its leveraging strategy, there will be plenty of upside later with much less risk.

Because the market hates heavy natural gas producers these days, energy investors would be hard-pressed to find another company trading at a deeper discount than Chesapeake Energy. Its share price depreciated after negative news surfaced concerning the company's management and spiraling debt picture. While the debt issues still persist, giant steps have been taken to help mitigate the problems. To learn more about Chesapeake and its enormous potential, you're invited to check out The Motley Fool's brand-new premium report on the company. Simply click here now to access your copy.


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