NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Shale Mania is back, and for some analysts, this means there are as many natural gas stocks to short on the euphoria as there are to be taken out by acquirers writing big premium checks.
Analysts say there may be plenty of irrational exuberance in natural gas sector as a result of the above-60% premium that BHP Billiton (BHP) is paying for Petrohawk (HK - Get Report), a contrarian view based on the idea that the Petrohawk deal was more about Petrohawk than industry consolidation.
As natural gas prices remain low, and both buyers and sellers take their sweet time before jumping into a deal traders may be taking quick profits in stocks like Range Resources and Southwestern Energy, which surged on the Petrohawk deal.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see a few deals, but with the healthy degree of appreciation in stocks like Range Resources (RRC - Get Report), Southwestern Energy (SWN - Get Report)and Comstock Resources (CRK - Get Report), it's hard to believe all the names maintain gains for any longer than a week to a month," said Curtis Trimble, analyst at MKM Partners.Other energy analysts agreed that it wouldn't be a surprise to see Range Resources, which rose 12% on Friday, and Southwestern Energy, up 9%, to give back some of those gains. They are not heavily shorted stocks, but short covering may have been embedded in the action on Friday also. Range Resources short interest equals about 9% of its float, according to Nasdaq. Analysts also noted that both companies are natural gas-heavy in their portfolios, whereas Petrohawk had made a significant transition to oil through the Eagle Ford shale. "Southwestern and Range will be natural gas-heavy forever," said MKM Partners' Trimble. That said, their portfolios do represents some of the best plays in the shale space, between the Fayetteville and Marcellus shale, and are multi-basin portfolios, which is a requirement for the big checks from big buyers. Unless there is a big spike in the price of the underlying commodity, analysts question whether the management teams of these companies will be motivated to sell sooner rather than later. "Financial buyers like private equity will buy assets, not companies, and the integrated companies will do about one a quarter, as we've already seen. Unless there is some fundamental sign that natural gas is about to spike, people have time to wait and get more value from their assets," Trimble said. He sees Ultra Petroleum, up 5% compared to twice that gain in Range and Southwestern, as much more likely to be interested in selling sooner rather than later.