Winter just doesn’t seem to want to give way to spring this year. Where I live, we’ve been hit with more snow and a continuation of this cold winter. Frustrations with the late spring are beginning to boil over and cabin fever has gotten so bad that our beloved Punxsutawney Phil has been indicted after a botched forecast of an early spring.
Not only has the late spring caused a lot of ire among those ready for winter’s end, it’s also causing natural gas prices to head higher. While that’s a welcome sight for producers, heavy users of natural gas are not as thrilled. While these companies have enjoyed the profits made while using cheap natural gas, if prices keep going higher the situation will reverse. Here are three companies that could feel an impact if natural gas prices keep going higher.
CF Industries (NYSE:CF)
The fertilizer maker is a heavy user of natural gas as a feedstock in fertilizer production. It has benefited handsomely from cheap natural gas, which drove record sales and earnings last year. It’s also betting big that natural gas prices will stay low by investing $3.8 billion to expand its operations.
The company is anticipating a very positive operating environment for the year ahead, highlighted by favorable natural gas costs. However, as of its last earnings report it had only hedged its natural gas needs through April of this year. A steady rise in price could affect its bottom line, and the same can be said for its publicly traded subsidiary Terra Nitrogen (NYSE:TNH). The volatility of natural gas prices is a big risk to its results and has a real effect on the bottom line: The company’s net earnings last year jumped to $560.8 million from $508 million in 2011, with a 23% realized decrease in natural gas prices.
Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW)
Dow also has big plans for cheap natural gas. The company has committed more than $4 billion to expand nat-gas use as a feedstock for the production of chemicals and plastics. Among its planned expenditures is a world-scale ethane cracker plant that comes with a $1.7 billion price tag.
For Dow, it sees the potential for these projects to deliver $2.5 billion in annual EBITDA when everything is up and running in 2017. The key to hitting that target is continued low natural gas prices. While Dow has been vocal in its disapproval of increased liquefied natural gas exports, which would raise gas prices, there’s not much it can do to stop Mother Nature from driving prices higher.
Steelmaker Nucor will see a big increase in its use of natural gas when it completes construction of its direct reduced iron, or DRI, facility. The company also uses a lot of gas throughout its U.S. steel manufacturing operations. Low natural gas prices are critical to its success; if they continue to stay low, the company could add to its DRI capacity.
With low natural gas prices being so critical to its success, the company has entered into a 20-year supply agreement with Encana (NYSE:ECA). The agreement should provide enough gas to offset the company’s usage at all of its steel mills, plus its two DRI facilities. That is, of course, if the Encana-operated wells produce enough gas to meet expectations. While the agreement has Nucor’s natural gas use well covered, the company is still joining Dow in the fight against exports. It sees that higher natural gas prices would negatively affect its competitive position.
My Foolish take
Most of the companies mentioned above hedge natural gas exposure in one way or another to help guard against price spikes. That doesn’t mean that the market won’t sell them off if natural gas heads higher. As an investor, it might not be a bad idea to seize that opportunity to hedge your own natural gas exposure and buy one of these heavy users.