A few months ago, I urged readers to weigh natural gas company CEOs' public comments on 2010 versus their actions. Before the year closes, I would like to reiterate that point.
Last time, I pointed to XTO Energy's (NYSE: XTO ) hedging at the sub-$6 level as a sign that the company wasn't all that bullish, despite Chairman Bob Simpson's stated confidence in a "stronger natural gas environment" in 2010. Simpson has since agreed to sell the company to ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) at a modest 25% premium.
Exxon's excitement about natural gas is long term in nature. See, for example, the company's energy outlook to 2030. It predicts "natural gas will be the fastest growing major fuel," with demand 55% higher in 2030 than it was in 2005.
Granted, Simpson gets shares of Exxon in this all-stock transaction, so he keeps exposure to natural gas, but Exxon's portfolio is far more balanced with oil production. That's a quick way to achieve the hydrocarbon balance that EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) is busily seeking.
I would expect a move in natural gas prices to, say, the $7 level to translate to a much greater than 25% rise in XTO's market value. How credible can Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE: CHK ) calls for $6 to $9 gas in 2010 be, given XTO's actions?
I was also interested to see Floyd Wilson, the chairman and CEO of Petrohawk Energy (NYSE: HK ) , start a trading plan this month "for financial planning and estate planning purposes." Given the company's full-throttle approach to shale exploitation, you'd think that management would want to maximize its exposure to these efforts.
I realize that Wilson is older than 60 and has a good reason to begin making retirement resolutions. If all insider sales signaled a lack of conviction, I certainly couldn't have recommended ATP Oil & Gas (Nasdaq: ATPG ) yesterday as my top stock for 2010. The chief financial officer there just let go of a fair-sized chunk of his holdings.
The timing of Wilson's initiation of a trading plan relative to fellow shale-slayer Simpson's big sale admittedly makes the move look more significant than it otherwise would. I recognize that both actions may be meaningless with regard to the near-term natural gas outlook, but I'm nevertheless keeping them in the back of my mind.