Thursday’s ETF To Watch: Natural Gas ETF

by on September 23, 2010 | ETFs Mentioned:

As the U.S. dollar continues to waver thanks to crippling budget deficits and minimal growth prospects, many investors have turned to a variety of commodity ETFs as a way to obtain real returns in an increasingly uncertain market. Some commodities such as gold, wheat, and corn have had an amazing run up in the summer months with many surging to never before seen levels.

While many metals and agricultural ETFs have shot higher, commodities following the oil and gas markets have stagnated in recent weeks as investors have grown increasingly worried over tepid demand for fuels going forward thanks to sluggish economic growth and minimal threats to vital production zones in the Gulf. However, two brewing developments could help to reverse this trend and send some of the oil and gas focused ETFs higher in the coming days.

Every Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration releases its natural gas inventory report at 10:30 AM eastern time. With yesterday’s crude oil report showing that supplies rose by nearly one million barrels to a point roughly 13% above their five year averages, many are not expected much positive news out of today’s report on natural gas. Some traders are forecasting an increase in stockpiles of close to 80 billion cubic feet which could help to further depress prices. However, unseasonably warm weather in much of the country could end up taking out more of this than originally expected, especially considering that the September-early October period is one of the lowest usage times for the popular heating and cooling fuel. This is because it is not cool enough to warrant heat and too cool for air conditioning in much of the country during this time period, leaving higher than normal levels of inventory for natural gas producers but with warm September weather this could change very quickly [see How UNG Lost 23% In August].

Second, there is some significant storm activity brewing in the southern Caribbean and off of the African coast; either one of these storms could turn into a hurricane and threaten the Gulf, a scenario that until extremely recently many had all but forgotten about given the trajectory of virtually all of this season’s hurricanes so far. While the closest disturbance remains disorganized, if it were to turn into a solid storm and head north into the Gulf it could take some production off line which would be bullish for the natural gas sector, especially considering that few had expected this storm to amount to anything a few days ago.

Due to these developments, we look for the United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) to be in focus for much of today’s trading session. UNG tracks the changes in percentage terms of the units’ net asset value to reflect the changes in percentage terms of the price of natural gas, as measured by the futures contract on natural gas traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange that is the near month contract to expire, except when the near month contract is within two weeks of expiration, in which case it will invest in the next month to expire, less UNG’s expenses.

The fund charges a pretty steep expense ratio of 1.16% and has failed to produce significant returns for investors over the long-term, sinking by 35% since the start of 2010. However, the price of UNG has stabilized in recent days thanks to growing speculation over hurricane activity in the Atlantic and warmer than normal temperatures which may led to a demand spike for the popular cooling fuel in what is traditionally one of the least demanding times of the year for natural gas. If either one of these developments pan out, it could impact supplies and help to put a bottom underneath the struggling fuel for the near future [also read Natural Gas ETFs: Investing In The Fuel Of The Future].

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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.