There's been nowhere for coal companies to hide ever since the price of natural gas fell off a cliff as 2012 approached. Coal companies have been waiting for an inflection point and are hoping it's finally arrived, as natural gas prices close in on $4 per million BTU.

At this price, coal in both the Powder River and Illinois basins should now be economically viable for utilities to use. Peabody Energy is a leading producer in both regions, so any continuation in natural gas' price momentum will add to coal's resurgent competitiveness. 

Why focus solely on the North American market? That's a question Peabody asked itself a while back, and it's clear they couldn't come up with a reason. Record exports from the U.S. in 2012 helped buoy the company's financial performance, and if it can combine a growing Asian market with increased U.S. demand, investors could finally start to be rewarded.

The Fool's Taylor Muckerman has more in the following video.