UNG Natural Gas ETF

After USO for crude oil, there is another energy commodity ETF for natural gas. It’s UNG. Like most of other commodity ETF, it starts falling right after debut. And it has fallen big too, down about 30% from the height. Given the recent price history of natural gas, it could fall to $4 from the current $6 (price is for the futures market, rather than UNG itself). That’s another 33% potential drop. But for sure it cannot go down to zero, unless you don’t need to pay any natural gas bill.

The advantage of diversifying into pure commodity plays is that while commodity producers are influenced by all kinds of stock market related factors, commodity itself is less swung by the up and down of the stock markets. Rather it is determined by the economics of the supply and demand. The supposed un-correlation should serve a good complement to a portfolio reducing the overall volatility.

To invest in natural gas, one can invest in UNG directly, and/or natural gas companies such as XTO, CHK, BTU, etc. I already own CHK and BTU, but XTO has been a much better performer. I have always wanted to buy XTO, but when I occasionally do remember to check its stock price, the price has never seemed right to me.

As the demand for energy goes up, I expect rotation of rising prices among all energy sources. It’s really the relative economics of different energy that matters. If crude oil prices go up too high, people will shift to other energy sources whenever and wherever it’s viable to do so. There are plenty of choices such as natural gas, nuclear energy, coal, or any other alternative energy. One should asset-allocating for different energies components, and possibly rotate through different forms of energy investment.

At the price of $6 natural gas, and $74 crude oil, it may make sense to re-balance the stakes between natural gas and crude oil bets.

By the way, UNG like USO is an ETF that employ futures contract, and is subjected to price manipulation around expiration dates. Excessive cost in rolling over the contracts will eat into the performance of the ETF. USO is probably the best example in how your pocket can be emptied even when you’re right. The crude oil price is roughly the same around $72 to $75 in May 2006 and now. But some manipulators have managed to empty USO by 20% in a little bit more than 1 year timeframe from $70 down to $56. Now if that is not manipulation, I don’t know what that is. Is that a “random walk”? Shouldn’t the average of contango and backwardation be zero? I’m sure you’ve read the story on Amaranth’s 6 billion hedge fund blowup. But probably less people paid attention to who pocketed their money.

Anyway, for the above reason, I would definitely not put my money into USO or UNG for the long haul. But as a trading vehicle, it should be fine.


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