Consolidated CEO: Too Soon To Call Bottom In Coal, Nat Gas Markets
04/26/2012| 11:23am US/Eastern
--Slump may not be over for natural gas, power-plant coal prices, Consol chief says
--Nymex natural gas futures down 53% in the last year; coal off 21%
--Consol's 1Q profit fell 49% from a year earlier, to $97.2 million
By Matt Day
It's too soon to say the slumping prices of power-plant coal and natural gas have hit their lows for the year, the chief executive of coal and gas producer Consol Energy Inc. (>> CONSOL Energy Inc.) said on Thursday.
A supply glut of natural gas in the United States has pushed prices of the heating and power-plant fuel to a series of decade lows this spring. That's dragged coal prices lower, as U.S. utilities favored burning cheaper natural gas.
"Energy markets have always been very volatile," J. Brett Harvey said on a conference call to discuss Consol's first-quarter results, adding that he was "not ready" to call a bottom in the browbeaten markets.
Benchmark natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 53% in the year ended Wednesday, to $2.068 a million British thermal units. Coal futures on Nymex, which track prices for the type of coal mined in Central Appalachia, fell 21% during the same period, to $66.65 a ton. Prices of both have rebounded slightly from this spring's lows.
An unusually warm winter saw U.S. power plants run at a slower rate than normal, and stockpiles of both coal and natural gas ballooned. Some of Consol's utility customers have deferred delivery of previously-purchased coal, forcing the company to export some of its planned coal shipments to customers abroad.
Harvey said industrywide production cuts in both coal and natural gas will eventually balance supply with low demand, leading to a recovery in prices.
Pennsylvania-based Consol, historically a coal producer, entered the gas business in 2010 with a $3.47 billion deal for Dominion Resources Inc.'s (D) Appalachian natural gas exploration and production operations. The company has since partnered with Hess Corp. (>> Hess Corp.) and Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) to develop some of its gas holdings.
Harvey said consol was focusing its gas-drilling program on areas expected to yield higher-priced crude oil and natural gas liquids such as propane and butane to limit the company's exposure to low prices for so-called dry natural gas.
The company, Harvey said, is prepared to further trim its spending programs should coal or gas demand weaken.
Consol on Thursday said it posted a profit of $97.2 million, or 42 cents a share, during the three months ended March 31, down from $192.1 million, or 84 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 2.6% to $1.43 billion.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of 58 cents, on $1.38 billion in revenue.
-By Matt Day, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-4986; email@example.com
--Kristin Jones contributed to this article.
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