What happened

Shares of Southwestern Energy Company (NYSE:SWN) rallied on Friday and were up more than 12% at 1:45 p.m. EST. Fueling the natural gas producer's rise was its solid fourth-quarter results.

So what

Southwestern Energy reported adjusted earnings of $62 million, or $0.12 per share, during the fourth quarter, which beat analysts' expectations by $0.03 per share. Net cash flow, meanwhile came in even stronger at $322 million, pushing its full-year total to $1.1 billion, up an impressive 76% compared to 2016. The company benefited from a 40% improvement in production from the Appalachian Basin as well as both a reduction in costs and an improvement in oil and gas prices.

A natural gas well with pipelines at sunset.

Image source: Getty Images.

Those results show that the company is beginning to head in the right direction after a tough stretch. Its focus in the year ahead will be to continue that progress, including exploring strategic alternatives for its Fayetteville Shale assets, accelerating development in Appalachia, and reducing structural costs. These efforts aim to "reposition the company to compete and win in any commodity price environment for years to come," according to CEO Bill Way, which should position it to "drive increasing value for our shareholders."

Now what

Southwestern Energy seems to be pulling out of its tailspin after almost getting in over its head in debt as it spent heavily to build its Appalachia position a few years ago just as commodity prices crashed. That said, the company still has some work to do before it completes that repositioning. Because of that, it's not in the same elite class as the top natural gas stocks just yet.

Matthew DiLallo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.