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Markets and energy prices were on the move today as fear rose over the economy after a weaker-than-expected private-sector jobs report. At 5:00 pm ET on Wednesday, the VIX (VOLATILITYINDICES: ^VIX ) was up 11.19%, Brent crude was down 3.04% to $107.32, and WTI crude was down 2.71% to $94.53. U.S. natural gas was down 1.61% to $3.90.
Today's energy-stock leaders
Among U.S. companies with market caps greater than $500 million, today's energy-stocks leader was Magnum Hunter Resources (NASDAQOTH: MHRCQ ) , up 3.15% to $3.93. Magnum was up more than 10% this morning, after the company announced an asset sale of its Eagle Ford Shale assets to Penn Virginia (NASDAQOTH: PVAHQ ) for $401 million. The assets include 19,000 net acres with 49 producing wells, seven wells drilled, and four currently being drilled. For March, the average daily production was 3,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Magnum plans on using the cash from the sale to pay down debt, which as of Sept. 30 stood at $680 million. The company is late in reporting its annual result for the year ended Dec. 31, after it identified material weaknesses in its internal controls. Investors should be wary of investing in a company that's late in filing.
Second among energy stocks today was Arch Coal (NASDAQOTH: ACIIQ ) up 2.42% to $5.08, while in third was Peabody Energy (NASDAQOTH: BTUUQ ) , up 1.15% to $20.15. Coal stocks been crushed as environmental regulations pushed up the price of running coal plants and cheap natural gas provided an easy and cheaper alternative for power producers. Natural gas has taken significant market share in the U.S. power markets, and coal demand and prices have fallen as a result.
Weaker companies haven't survived, with Patriot Coal, for one, going into bankruptcy. The company was spun off from Peabody Energy in 2007 and has been weighed down by $1.6 billion in retiree health benefits. As part of the spinoff, Peabody agreed to cover certain health-care costs for former Peabody employees. Patriot is suing Peabody to make sure that Peabody "does not attempt to use Patriot's bankruptcy to escape Peabody's own health care obligations to certain retirees." Peabody argues that if Patriot's obligations are lessened; then its own obligations are also lessened. Yesterday, Patriot asked the bankruptcy court to cap life insurance benefits and health-care coverage for its retirees. The company has 4,000 employees and 8,100 retirees.
Foolish bottom line
The coal industry in the United States has been in a state of flux since the arrival of a cheaper alternative for energy production: natural gas. Exports are becoming a much bigger part of the domestic coal landscape, and Peabody Energy has deals in place to get its cheaper coal from the Powder River and Illinois basins to India, China, and the EU. For investors looking to capitalize on a rebound in the U.S. coal market, The Motley Fool has authored a special new premium report detailing exactly why Peabody Energy is perhaps most worthy of your consideration. Don't miss out on this invaluable resource -- simply click here now to claim your copy today.