Encana Corporation Hits $10: Time to Double Down?

Encana Corporation (TSX:ECA)(NYSE:ECA) has more than doubled since its lows set earlier this year. There have been a few factors a play. First, natural gas prices have been spiking–up over 50% since March. Second, management has been executing its plan to transition the business towards lower-cost, primarily oil-producing fields.

How long will these positive tailwinds last?


Management’s master plan is still in its infancy

For years, Encana’s management team has attempted to move away from natural gas towards oil, where profitability metrics are much higher. In just three years oil has grown from 5% of production to nearly 20%. To speed up the process, it has turned to selling off assets that are heavily exposed to natural gas production.

In 2015 the company sold $2.8 billion in assets. Last month, it announced another $625 million deal to sell assets in northwestern Alberta. Because over 90% of the production at those wells was either natural gas or natural gas liquids, the market loved the deal, sending shares higher.

Still, the company has a long way to go until investors will be willing to view it as an oil company.

The strategy of offloading assets may have become more difficult as well. In June the Alberta Energy Regulator opted to toughen rules that make it more difficult to complete mergers and acquisitions in the province. A slowdown in deal could threaten Encana’s momentum given that asset sales represent the quickest way to transform itself into an oil company.

Natural gas prices are a major boon

In March natural gas prices bottomed at about US$1.70 per MMBtu. This week the commodity closed at about US$2.70 per MMBtu. While the rally in natural gas prices has been sudden, there are a few reasons to believe it will continue.

Last year, the EIA expected the supply glut to wind down over the course of this year. However, weather shifts have caused many analysts to call for a deficit by 2017. Approximately 50% of U.S. and Canadian households use natural gas for heating and cooling, so extreme temperatures help push up prices.

Tightening supply should have major effects on Encana’s business. After exporting massive supplies of natural gas from 2012 to 2015, the EIA now expects the U.S. to become a net importer by 2017. For Canadian producers like Encana, this represents a giant opportunity. Additionally, since 2007 the number of natural gas rigs in North America has fallen by over 80%. Lower rig counts are a necessary component to restricting excess supply.

Long road ahead

While Encana shares have deservedly experienced a big boost this year, the structural issues it faces will persist for years. Sure, the U.S. may turn into a net importer of natural gas next year, but once rig counts are brought online again, cheap sources of fracking should put a cap on pricing gains. Additionally, management will still need years to diversify the business away from natural gas.

If you’re looking to invest in Encana, you must be bullish on its ability to complete a multi-year transition in a still-difficult operating environment. Buying and holding remains the best option.

Stock buy alert hits astounding 96% success rate!

The hand-picked investing team inside Stock Advisor Canada recently issued a buy alert for one special type of "bread-and-butter" stock where The Motley Fool U.S. has banked profits on 23 out of 24 recommendations. Frankly, with an astounding 96% success rate that has delivered average returns of 260%, chances are this new pick could deliver life-changing returns as well. Because the team at Stock Advisor Canada fully embraces the same time-tested investing philosophies that have led to countless Motley Fool winners globally. So simply click here to unlock the full details behind this new recommendation and join Stock Advisor Canada.

*96% accuracy includes restaurant stock recommendations from Motley Fool U.S. services Stock AdvisorRule BreakersHidden GemsIncome Investor and Inside Value since each services inception. Returns as of 5/27/16.

Fool contributor Ryan Vanzo has no position in any stocks mentioned.

I consent to receiving information from The Motley Fool via email, direct mail, and occasional special offer phone calls. I understand I can unsubscribe from these updates at any time. Please read the Privacy Statement and Terms of Service for more information.