Natural gas exchange-traded funds (ETFs) provide investors with exposure to natural gas prices while avoiding both the complexities of trading natural gas futures contracts and the storage costs of holding physical commodities. Natural gas is a commodity used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, fuel, and electricity generation. It also is used in the manufacture of plastics and other organic chemicals. The price of natural gas rises and falls according to fluctuations in supply and demand.

Key Takeaways

  • Natural gas futures prices have risen at a slower pace than the S&P 500 over the past year.
  • The three natural gas exchange-traded funds (ETFs), ranked by one-year trailing total returns, are UNL, UNG, and GAZ.
  • All three of these ETFs hold natural gas futures contracts to gain exposure to natural gas prices.

There are three natural gas ETFs that trade in the United States, excluding inverse and leveraged ETFs. All three primarily gain exposure to natural gas prices through natural gas futures contracts and do not hold stocks of natural gas companies.

Natural gas futures prices, as measured by the Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex, have risen at a slower pace than the broader market over the past 12 months, climbing 16.8% compared to the S&P 500’s total return of 36.2%, as of Aug. 5, 2021. The best performing natural gas ETF, based on performance over the past year, is the United States 12 Month Natural Gas Fund (UNL).

We examine the three natural gas ETFs below. All numbers are as of Aug. 6, 2021.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with very low assets under management (AUM), less than $50 million, usually have lower liquidity than larger ETFs. This can result in higher trading costs, which can negate some of your investment gains or increase your losses.

United States 12 Month Natural Gas Fund (UNL)

  • Performance Over One-Year: 38.0%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.90%
  • Annual Dividend Yield: N/A
  • Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 16,272
  • Assets Under Management: $11.4 million
  • Inception Date: Nov. 18, 2009
  • Issuer: Concierge Technologies

UNL is structured as a commodity pool, a private investment structure that pools investor contributions and then trades futures and options in commodities on their behalf. The fund holds natural gas futures contracts to gain long exposure to natural gas prices and diversifies its holdings across multiple maturities to mitigate the adverse impact of contango.

UNL may be appealing to investors as a hedge against inflation.

United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG)

  • Performance Over One-Year: 18.4%
  • Expense Ratio: 1.35%
  • Annual Dividend Yield: N/A
  • Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 2,227,166
  • Assets Under Management: $286.9 million
  • Inception Date: April 18, 2007
  • Issuer: Concierge Technologies

Like UNL, UNG is structured as a commodity pool and offers exposure to natural gas prices by holding natural gas futures contracts. Unlike UNL, however, this ETF is not as diversified, investing in futures contracts set to expire within the next month.

This means the fund is more exposed to the adverse impacts of contango and more appropriate for traders with a short-term strategy. It also may be appealing as an inflation hedge.

iPath Series B Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex Total Return ETN (GAZ)

  • Performance Over One-Year: 18.4%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.45%
  • Annual Dividend Yield: N/A
  • Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 4,122
  • Assets Under Management: $6.5 million
  • Inception Date: March 8, 2017
  • Issuer: Barclays Capital

GAZ is structured as an exchange-traded note (ETN), a type of unsecured debt security that does not make interest payments and has stock-like characteristics. The fund provides exposure to natural gas prices through the holding of natural gas futures contracts.

As an ETN, GAZ exposes investors to the credit risk of the issuer. Also, this ETN doesn’t generally move with changes in spot natural gas prices because the underlying index is composed of futures contracts. It is designed for investors with a short-term investment horizon, rather than as part of a buy-and-hold strategy.

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