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4 Stocks for Surging Natural Gas

NEW YORK (Stockpickr) -- By the spring of 2012, investors had simply given up on natural gas stocks. After all, the energy source had crashed in value to just $2 per thousand cubic feet, a price at which almost every producer would lose money. It was pretty clear that the industry damage would deepen and that major players might eventually run out of cash, but then a funny thing happened. Gas prices began to rebound, and they kept on going, managing to double in value in just 12 months.

To be sure, it's unwise to assume that all of the recent price gains for natural gas will hold. At a current price of $4.25 per thousand cubic feet, you should assume a modest pullback, perhaps to the $4 range as the springtime weather reduces demand for gas.

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Still, even at that lower price range, gas producers are breathing a huge sigh of relief. They no longer need to hunker down for an extended period of blight and can instead start to focus on the kind of cash flow that $4 natural gas can generate.

Here are four stocks that stand to benefit from the stunning rebound in natural gas.

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Bill Barrett Resources

The sharp plunge in gas prices over the course of 2011 really took a toll on Bill Barrett (BBG), which is engaged in the exploration, development and production of natural gas and crude oil, and its share price slid from $50 in the summer to the upper teens by early 2012. Falling gas prices set the stage for flat or even negative cash flow and eventually led to a turnover in the corner office.

But Bill Barrett is now shaping up as a solid rebound play.

New management is counting on firmer gas prices to rescue the cash flow statement, which has been subpar in recent years. Even as sales have risen, EBITDA has been stuck at around $400 million, highlighting a compression in profit margins. The key is to find opportunities to streamline, and as those take shape, BBG's EBITDA strength will start to rise -- surely aided by higher gas prices as well.

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