Natural gas seems to have fallen out of favor in 2009. Over the past year the spot price of natural gas has fallen from a high of $14 to below $3. The primary reasons for the free-fall in price is the sizable natural gas inventories around the world combined with a relatively stubborn natural gas industry which refuses to slow production in the wake of a global recession and economic slowdown.

IN PICTURES: Eight Ways To Survive A Market Downturn

Widening Gap
As the bifurcation between oil and natural gas began to play out this year, many looked at the widening gap in the oil to natural gas price ratio as an opportunity to long natural gas, which they thought was merely lagging the recovery in oil prices by a few weeks. As weeks turned into months, the oil to natural gas ratio has reached historic levels (over 22-times as of Tuesday). Those that bet on natural gas' recovery through the United States Natural Gas Fund ETF (NYSE: UNG) have felt the brunt of the pain; UNG is a mess. Shares are down 50% in 2009 alone, and 17% in the last 3 weeks to trade at $12, down from a high of $63.89 last summer. The fund has also, for all intents and purposes, reached its position limits set forth by the CFTC, all but deeming UNG a closed-end fund due to its inability to issue new shares. The lack of new shares has led UNG to trade at an almost unheard of premium of 11% over its NAV.

Swaps
In a desperate maneuver to create more units, UNG's managers entered into a $250 million over-the-counter swap contract in July, and recently announced that they had also entered into a $500 million natural gas total return swap. By entering into these swap contracts, UNG has added significant risk to shareholders by introducing a large amount of counterparty risk into the equation. It's a desperate move by a desperate group.

Long Road Ahead
Having performed equally as badly, the Barclays IPATH Natural Gas ETN (NYSE: GAZ) has also been a big loser of late. Down 50% YTD and 11% in the past 3 weeks, GAZ has managed to keep its premium below 9%. Also, since GAZ's holdings are quite a bit smaller than UNG, the former fund may have an easier time in reducing its premium. That being said, since both funds hold near-dated future contracts (currently September and October '09 contracts) they may be in for some hard times in the medium term as well. As the current contango in natural gas futures flattens, as evidenced by the large open interest on natural gas puts for October, natural gas prices may not recover until 2010. Even in that case, with the large reserves still remaining and the majority of natural gas producers refusing to stop production, capacity may be reached rather soon, putting greater downward pressure on natural gas prices.

Bottom Line
Right now, the outlook for natural gas and UNG along with GAZ does not look promising. I would suggest staying away from these funds for the foreseeable future and waiting to see if their managers can straighten out the mess that these funds have gotten into. (To learn more, see our Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)

Use the Investopedia Stock Simulator to trade the stocks mentioned in this stock analysis, risk free!

Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    A Day in the Life of an Equity Research Analyst

    What does an equity research analyst do on an everyday basis?
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: ProShares UltraPro Nasdaq Biotech

    Obtain information about an ETF offerings that provides leveraged exposure to the biotechnology industry, the ProShares UltraPro Nasdaq Biotech Fund.
  3. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares MSCI Europe Financials

    Learn about the iShares MSCI Europe Financials fund, which invests in numerous European financial industries, such as banks, insurance and real estate.
  4. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: SPDR S&P Insurance

    Learn about the SPDR S&P Insurance exchange-traded fund, which follows the S&P Insurance Select Industry Index by investing in equities of U.S. insurers.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Small Cap

    Learn about the SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Small Cap exchange-traded fund, which invests in small-cap firms traded at the emerging equity markets.
  6. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: ETFS Physical Platinum

    Learn about the physical platinum ETF. Platinum embarked on a bull market from 2001 to 2011, climbing to record prices along with other precious metals.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares MSCI Turkey

    Learn about the iShares MSCI Turkey exchange-traded fund, which invests in a wide variety of companies' equities traded on Turkish exchanges.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: PowerShares S&P 500 Downside Hedged

    Find out about the PowerShares S&P 500 Downside Hedged ETF, and learn detailed information about characteristics, suitability and recommendations of it.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: Guggenheim Enhanced Short Dur

    Find out about the Guggenheim Enhanced Short Duration ETF, and learn detailed information about this fund that focuses on fixed-income securities.
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares US Oil&Gas Explor&Prodtn

    Learn about the iShares U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF, which provides an efficient way to invest in the exploration and production sector.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Equity

    The value of an asset less the value of all liabilities on that ...
  2. Derivative

    A security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from ...
  3. Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)

    A security that tracks an index, a commodity or a basket of assets ...
  4. The New Deal

    A series of domestic programs designed to help the United States ...
  5. Inverse Transaction

    A transaction that can cancel out a forward contract that has ...
  6. Best To Deliver

    The security that is delivered by the short position holder in ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is the difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital?

    The difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital is investors have already paid in full for paid-up ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How do futures contracts roll over?

    Traders roll over futures contracts to switch from the front month contract that is close to expiration to another contract ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Why would a corporation issue convertible bonds?

    A convertible bond represents a hybrid security that has bond and equity features; this type of bond allows the conversion ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What does a high turnover ratio signify for an investment fund?

    If an investment fund has a high turnover ratio, it indicates it replaces most or all of its holdings over a one-year period. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Does index trading increase market vulnerability?

    The rise of index trading may increase the overall vulnerability of the stock market due to increased correlations between ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does additional paid in capital affect retained earnings?

    Both additional paid-in capital and retained earnings are entries under the shareholders' equity section of a company's balance ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

COMPANIES IN THIS ARTICLE
Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!