Huge Cash Flows for Decades

On Sunday, July 5, billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK) bought a huge chunk of Dominion Energy’s natural gas distribution and storage network.

The $9.7 billion deal means Berkshire gets:

  • Over 7,700 miles of pipelines.
  • 900 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage space.
  • And 25% of a Maryland liquefied natural gas port.

For perspective, Buffett just bought over 2% of all the U.S. gas transmission lines and 20% of its storage capacity in a single deal.

He’s doing what we all should do: Buy low.

There is “blood in the streets” in oil and gas today.

Former giants of the industry, including Chesapeake Energy Corp., are going bankrupt.

Power companies are running scared from these non-renewable sources.

Yet the U.S. currently uses more natural gas than at any time in our history.

And the assets Buffett bought aren’t wells. They are far more valuable. These are the toll roads of American energy.

As longtime readers of my newsletter Real Wealth Strategist know, I’m a huge fan of these kinds of assets.

Costs to run them are low, and they generate steady cash flows.

In the case of natural gas, that cash flow will increase. Here’s why…

Natural Gas Prices Will Recover

Unlike oil prices, which are global, natural gas prices are local. That’s because it is expensive, difficult and dangerous to ship natural gas outside of a pipeline.

And in the last five years, U.S. natural gas production exploded.

You can see what I mean in the chart below:

Supply (the orange line) exceeded demand (the blue line) so much over the past couple of years that the natural gas price plummeted.

Ten years ago, the average price of natural gas was over $4 per thousand cubic feet (MCF). Today, it’s around $1.88 per MCF.

That’s due to the explosion of oil shale production. The same wells that flooded the U.S. with light, sweet crude oil also produced natural gas. Today, Texas produces a quarter of all the natural gas in the U.S.

But here’s the thing: The number of new wells drilled in Texas is way down.

In May 2020, Texas issued just 251 new well permits, down from 1,050 in May 2019. Of those 251, only 208 were for new oil and gas wells.

That nearly 90% decline in new drilling reflects the collapse in both oil and natural gas prices. And it’s important to note that shale wells don’t last long. You get most of the production from a typical Texas shale well in the first 18 months. That’s called the “flush production.”

After that, the wells dry up to a trickle.

That’s already reflected in the data. Production declines in 2020 are well above what we saw last year.

I expect production to plummet in the second half of 2020. U.S. natural gas production will fall 10% or more by the end of the year.

And that will send natural gas prices soaring.

I believe this will be a long-term problem. As the bonus gas from those shale oil wells goes away, we’ll see the price of natural gas rise. And thanks to low oil prices, we won’t see new shale wells drilled anytime soon.

Here’s what you need to know: In 2019, Dominion’s assets generated $3.3 billion in revenue. As natural gas prices go up, the company will make more money.

And I guarantee that in a few years — when Berkshire is making its purchase price back every year — we’ll look back on Buffett’s acquisition of these natural gas assets in awe.

Good investing,
Matt Badiali
Matt Badiali

Editor, Real Wealth Strategist

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