A Superpower Commodity Oversupply

It seems that the U.S. and Russia share a common condition these days: an overabundance of natural gas. Indeed, as recently as five years ago, it appeared that natural gas demand in the U.S. was growing rapidly, and prices were climbing to such an extent that then-Fed Chair Alan Greenspan announced that he expected the U.S. to soon become a major importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Unfortunately for those who invested on Mr. Greenspan's belief, today's world looks much different.

At the time, the task at hand seemed to be the construction of dozens of LNG import terminals to receive the overseas product. As a result, by 2005, 55 such terminals were on the docket for construction in the United States. As of now, a grand total of six terminals have been completed, and most of those facilities remain unused.

Even in 2006, expectations for the amount of LNG arriving in the U.S. from other nations for the year 2025 was along the lines of 6.4 trillion cubic feet. The latest forecast by the Energy Information Administration has plunged to 1.2 trillion cubic feet in 2025, with a steady decline from a 2018 peak of around 1.5 trillion cubic feet. Oops.

Why the massive change? Quite simply, gas producers like Chesapeake (NYSE: CHK  ) , XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO  ) , Devon (NYSE: DVN  ) , and Anadarko (NYSE: APC  ) have found lots of gas in unconventional plays like the Barnett Shale of North Texas and the Haynesville play of Louisiana and Northeast Texas. At the same time, with the economy sputtering, traditional big users of natural gas -- petrochemical companies and fertilizer producers, for instance -- have chopped their demand significantly.  

And then, on the other side of the world, there's Russia's big, state-controlled Gazprom (OTC BB: OGZPY), which supplies about a quarter of Europe's natural gas. Suddenly, that company is suffering from reduced demand among its customer base, a relatively warm winter in Europe, a price lag that is linked to the fall of oil, and the remnants of last month's reputation-damaging dispute with Ukraine.

As a result, prices being paid by Gazprom's customers will likely be about a third lower than last year, and volumes shipped will be cut by close to 5%. These declines come at a time when Gazprom is in debt at a level that was approaching $50 billion six months ago.

None of this is to say that we're not also awash in oil, or that we should simply avoid the "gassier" companies completely. My advice for energy-investing Fools is to maintain small positions in the major integrated companies, which will provide something of a gas-oil balance until commodity prices settle down. My personal favorites are the biggest of all, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and BP (NYSE: BP  ) , with its recovering circumstances, solid management, and 7% yield.    

For related Foolishness:

Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your comments or questions. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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