While natural gas isn't the hot commodity it once was, it still has the potential to fuel a rise to the top for natural gas stocks in 2014. Recently, I took a brief look at five low-cost natural gas producers that should do well in 2014. All five had one thing in common: Each boasted of a strong position in the Marcellus Shale. Today, I want to focus on three companies that could emerge to become top natural-gas stocks in 2014, as each of these is focused on drilling the emerging Utica Shale, which has enormous untapped potential.
Best shale play in America?
The returns enjoyed by an oil and gas company can be distilled into two main components: well cost and estimated ultimate recoveries. In the Utica Shale, it costs about $10 million to drill each well; however, that well will produce more than 600,000 barrels of oil equivalent production in its lifetime. That combination potentially makes it one of the best shale plays in America, as the following slide from Magnum Hunter Resources (NYSE:MHR) indicates.
It's for that reason that I think the following three Utica Shale drillers could be among the top natural gas stocks in the year ahead.
Just getting started in the Utica
Magnum Hunter Resources is currently drilling its first few wells in the Utica. However, it is among the most levered to the play, as it has the second highest number of net acres to its current enterprise value. That gives investors tremendous future upside to the play if it turns out to be as good as Magnum Hunter and others expect. What producers love about the play is that it's very liquids-rich, meaning it contains a lot of the more highly valued natural gas liquids such as ethane, propane, and natural gasoline. Bottom line: If Magnum Hunter's results in the Utica don't disappoint, then this could be one of the top performing natural gas stocks in 2014.
Solid results, bright future
Rex Energy (NASDAQ:REXX) is a smaller, Appalachian Basin-focused driller that's having great success in the Utica Shale. Rex has two focus areas in the Utica, and both are delivering solid results. In 2013, Rex Energy brought a handful of wells online, with many producing 30-day sales in excess of 1,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day, or BOE/d. Even better, the liquids content of these wells averaged over 70%. Like Magnum Hunter, a lot of Rex Energy's future potential is in its Utica acreage, giving it the potential to be a top natural gas stock in the year ahead.
Best position in the best play?
Gulfport Energy (NASDAQ:GPOR) has drilled some of the best wells in the Utica Shale. As a result, it's probably the best levered to what producers think is the core of the play. Because of its vast resource potential in the Utica, Gulfport Energy is investing heavily to grow its natural gas and liquids production in the year ahead. The current plan has Gulfport spending $614 million of its nearly $700 million capital budget just on that one play. That has the company well positioned to be a top natural gas stock in 2014.
I think investors will start hearing about the Utica Shale a lot more in 2014. The region's production had been held back the past few years because of infrastructure constraints, but those are slowly going away as new capacity comes online. That's why I think the Utica Shale can fuel these three companies to become some of the top natural gas stocks of 2014.
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo 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.