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.

Joel South, Taylor Muckerman, and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.