3 Ways to Play the Recovering Resource Sector

There are green shoots of economic growth popping up all around the world, and this is great news for basic resource companies. However, nothing is ever simple in the resource sector and while companies may look attractive as recovery plays, under the skin things can be very different. Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) , Northern Tier Energy (NYSE: NTI  ) , and Golar LNG (NASDAQ: GLNG  ) are all recovery plays on their own respective markets and their futures look bright. 

Lower costs, higher profits
The gold industry is not strictly a play on the global economic recovery but more of a play on the sector's own recovery after several years of underperformance. Many investors have been spooked by the falling profits in the gold mining industry, along with spiraling costs and multi-billion dollar writedowns. However, I believe that the industry now looks attractive after recent declines.

For example, it seems as if proactive management teams, focused on slashing costs and cutting capital spending, have now maneuvered many miners into positions where they look well placed to ride out the declining price of gold.

Barrick Gold is no different. Indeed, the company announced at the end of the fiscal third quarter that it had managed to push down its all-in sustaining cash cost of production, or AISC, by 10% year on year, to $916 per ounce. The company is also slashing jobs and removing what it calls 'management layers' to improve the company's structure. Barrick's falling cost of production is bringing to an end almost a decade of rising production costs for the miner.

Nevertheless, things could be about to get rocky for the world's biggest gold miner. Like all miners, Barrick places a value on the gold contained within its mines, revaluing these reserves every year, which is fine when the price of gold is rising. Barrick will have to revalue its reserves this year, using the lower gold price, and this could lead to writedowns. I previously covered the issue of Barrick and writedowns here.

Rising dividends
The refining industry was in the dumps for the majority of 2013, but with the Brent-WTI differential now widening again this space looks ripe for a rally. 

Variable rate master limited partnership Northern Tier Energy is a great way for investors to ride this widening spread. Unfortunately, Northern Tier's income (and as a result, its distributions) has slumped during the past few quarter thanks to both planned and unplanned maintenance as well as a thin Brent-WTI price differential. Nevertheless, even Northern Tier's current quarterly distribution of $0.31 gives unitholders an annualized yield of 4.8%, which is almost double the S&P 500 average.

What's more, as the the Brent-WTI differential opens up again and the company completes turnaround activities, Northern Tier is set to produce some decent results during the next quarter. As a result it is likely that the company's distribution could double, or even triple from current rates for the first quarter of 2014.

Demand rising faster than supply
A commodity that really is a play on the global economic recovery is liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as demand for the commodity is set to rise faster than supply during the next few years. A research note published by Bank of America in November reiterated this fact, stating that many major LNG projects will not come online until 2015, even as demand for the fuel accelerates.

Moreover, according to data supplied by Bloomberg, spot prices for LNG within Asia peaked at $19.40 per thousand cubic feet last year as LNG replaced nuclear energy as Japan's primary source of power following the Fukushima incident. In comparison, LNG export prices from the U.S. averaged around $13 per thousand cubic feet for much of last year.

With demand for LNG rising faster than supply, sellers want to deliver their existing cargoes quickly to benefit from the high prices -- good news for Golar LNG. Now, unfortunately, Golar reported a third-quarter EBITDA loss of $3.3 million. According to management, this loss was due to the fact that two of the company's ships, Viking and Gimi, were idle for a large part of the third quarter. Nonetheless, with demand for LNG exploding, Viking soon found a charter at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, due to Gimi's size and age, the vessel could not find a customer and had to be laid up.

Still, Golar took delivery of two new boats during October and has plans for an additional four to be delivered in 2014. With activity in the LNG market increasing, Golar should not have trouble finding customers for these ships, and growth should continue.

Foolish summary
So all in all, Barrick, Northern Tier, and Golar look like great recovery plays. Indeed, with the Brent-WTI spread already moving in its favor, Northern Tier's income should be set to jump in the next few quarters. Meanwhile, the combination of a stronger gold price and lower costs will provide a lift to Barrick's earnings. And lastly, Golar provides investors with an indirect play on the expanding LNG market.

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