Five Spot: Croft Fills Up on Natural Gas

Kent Croft, co-manager of the Croft Value Fund ( CLVFX), says it's a good time to buy natural gas stocks.

The fund, which Morningstar rates four stars, has risen 16% this year, doubling the performance of the S&P 500 Index. The portfolio has declined 11% annually, on average, over the past three years, compared with a loss of 18% for the benchmark.

He shares his views in TheStreet.com's Fund Manager Five Spot, where America's top mutual fund managers give their best stock picks in five fast and furious questions.

Are you bullish or bearish?

Croft: Overall, we are bullish. We think the market remains relatively cheap given the low interest-rate environment and current depressed earnings base. There is still a lot of cash on the sidelines, and we believe a good portion will enter the stock market throughout the rest of the year. This creates opportunities to do your research and find good long-term investments.

What is your favorite sector?

Croft: We like natural gas stocks, and believe this is a good time to build a position. We believe North American natural gas prices will trend higher over time due to growth in usage, political safety and its global strategic importance.

Over time, natural gas should trade at a price near its BTU (British thermal units) equivalency relative to oil, about 6:1. At today's prices the ratio is about 18:1; natural gas is trading at a 67% discount to oil on a BTU basis.

Electric power generation has gone from accounting for 19% of total natural gas demand 10 years ago to 31% in 2008. The vast majority of new power generation is natural gas fired and will continue to drive natural gas usage. Natural gas fired power plants emit 40% less carbon dioxide per BTU versus coal-fired plants. Any greenhouse gas legislation that puts a price on emissions would make natural gas more attractive.

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