How to cash in on the shale gas revolution
New extraction techniques have slashed energy costs in the US and should generate opportunities for infrastructure, transport and chemical companies.
The fracking revolution in the natural gas industry is providing a huge boost to the US economy and has massive implications for investment in the region, according to a number of industry professionals.
Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas by using liquids to force out the fuel from previously inaccessible deposits.
The development of new prospecting and extraction technologies in the 1990s made the technique economical, opening up huge new areas to exploration and driving down natural gas prices.
"It’s absolutely a huge deal. The US is a net exporter of gas for the first time in 40 years," said Mike Corcell (pictured)
, manager of the RWC US Absolute Alpha fund.
"It’s been the biggest driver of jobs in the economy in the past three years. It’s driven down natural gas prices below $2, compared to $8 to $10 a decade ago."
"It’s also a big deal for the coal industry because coal is only economical when natural gas is below $4."
"Entire swathes of the US are important now which never were, like North Dakota for example. Near Fort McKinley they are even thinking of building an entire new city to house all the people. It’s creating high-paying jobs in America."
American natural gas providers invested heavily in infrastructure in the 80s and 90s to lower costs relative to the emerging market producers, but now have the cheapest gas in the world while still benefitting from that investment.
"They have a massive competitive advantage," added Simon Edelsten, manager of the Artemis Global Select fund. "We have re-positioned our energy developments around this position."
Edelsten’s Artemis Global Select
fund was only launched last year and has almost 10 per cent invested in the oil and gas sector.
"Whenever the gas price goes up, within weeks people go and do more drilling and the price goes down again," the manager said.
"It has caught this industry completely unaware. It is the first time in a long while that we have been able to say that American industry is competitive in the world, particularly in hydrocarbons," he added.
According to Edelsten, the key to profiting from this trend is buying the stocks that benefit from low gas prices.
"To find the companies that gain you need to follow the production cycle," he said.
US-listed firm Dow Chemicals predicts it will reduce costs by $3bn a year due to cheaper gas, while 3M – another company that uses natural gas in its production – will also see its overheads slashed.
Exports to emerging markets make up a large proportion of 3M's sales, and Edelsten says that ironically it is foreign firms such as Shin Etsu Chemicals of Japan that will be among the biggest gainers down the line.
Corcell believes investing in an infrastructure-based portfolio that is focused on the US is the most effective way for investors to benefit from this trend.
"It has massive long-tail implications for capital spending. In west Pennsylvania for example they had to build roads and bridges to transport the gas," he said.
Both managers advise on investing in firms that transport natural gas and associated liquids.
"The other companies we have are those that move gas around like Chart Industries or Flowserve," Edelsten added.
However, both managers acknowledge the environmental issues that could hinder the industry’s development.
Edelsten warns that despite the huge deposits found in Poland and near Blackpool in England the industry is far less developed outside the US and environmental concerns could be prohibitive.
"We are unlikely to see a flood of cheap gas into Europe for the next five years at least," he continued.
Corcell, who points to the huge shale gas deposit on the outskirts of Paris, is of a similar opinion.
"There is no chance of this ever being extracted," he explained.
"You need to be in a place where people are happy to put down new roads and dig up fields and buildings to put in new infrastructure."