Natural gas is getting more like crude oil every day. With the influx of new ETFs and the recent increase of shares available for the hottest fund, U.S. Natural Gas ( UNG), we're going to see "crudelike" access, volatility and increases in price. It's a good time to take another look at nat gas and nat gas stocks.

I've talked a lot (actually pretty incessantly) about the "endless bid" -- the desire for investors to have exposure to oil as part of their portfolio plan. That unrelenting appetite has caused a lot more volatility and higher prices for the crude barrel.

But the endless bid has mostly avoided natural gas. While in 2009 crude demand has slackened and supplies are at multiyear highs, crude has still been trading at pretty pricey levels. In contrast, you could say that natural gas has been trading fundamentally -- the demand picture is also bleak, supply is ample and the prices of nat gas traded on the futures markets have been very stable --and low -- just what you'd expect.

Top 5 Natural Gas Stocks

But things have been changing.

ETFs, which in crude oil have given instant access to futures markets for both daytraders and investors alike, are growing rapidly in natural gas.

The most popular of these is UNG, which invests directly in the futures markets.

Recently, UNG has been limited in the number of shares it could float, meaning that it has failed to accurately track natural gas prices, trading sometimes at a premium, sometimes at a discount, like a closed-end fund. That has disappointed shareholders.

But UNG recently won approval to increase its shares. That means two things: One, the appetite for natural gas exposure is growing. And two, players can be more confident of using UNG as a proxy for nat gas prices.

Both UNG and the largest ETN, iPath's Dow Jones AIG Natural Gas Total Return ( GAZ), have seen enormous growth.

As these appetites grow, so will the prices of nat gas.

Because natural gas is less storable and therefore a far more local market than crude, the immediate prices are much more important to the bottom line of natural gas companies.

Therefore, stock prices for companies in the natural gas business track the price of gas much more closely than they do for consolidated crude oil companies.

That's good, because it means that most investors won't need to resort to ETF and ETN trading if they want exposure to natural gas. But that appetite for exposure is going to mean higher nat gas prices and higher stock prices.

You can already see it in the curve of prices in the futures market. While prompt natural gas is trading at $3.55 per mMBtu, gas for December delivery, just four months away, is trading at $5.25. That 50% rise in the price of natural gas isn't a prediction. It's already baked in.

Will that translate to a 50% rise in natural gas stocks? Probably not that much, but it's a terrific and already resident impetus for price appreciation over the next few months.

That's why I'm telling you to take a look at natural gas and nat gas stocks now. And here are the five stocks I always give you: Anadarko ( APC), Apache ( APA), Devon Energy ( DVN), XTO Energy ( XTO) and Chesapeake ( CHK). Some of the bigger ones like Anadarko and Apache are a little more conservative in how they trade. Others, like my favorite, Chesapeake, really move -- it's seen a recent increase from under $17 a share to over $21.

I'm looking for a pullback from those levels and not willing to buy more here. But if you set some entry levels and scale in to these stocks and stick to them, I think you're going to have a nice play on natural gas for the upcoming fall and winter.

The appetite for nat gas exposure is increasing. That should make these stocks a great opportunity.
At the time of publication, Dicker was long Chesapeake, but positions can change at any time.

Dan Dicker has been a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange with more than 20 years' experience. He is a licensed commodities trade adviser. Dan's recognized energy market expertise includes active trading in crude oil, natural gas, unleaded gasoline and heating oil futures contracts; fundamental analysis including supply and demand statistics (DOE, EIA), CFTC trade reportage, volume and open interest; technical analysis including trend analysis, stochastics, Bollinger Bands, Elliot Wave theory, bar and tick charting and Japanese candlesticks; and trading expertise in outright, intermarket and intramarket spreads and cracks.

Dan also designed and supervised the introduction of the new Nymex PJM electricity futures contract, launched in April 2003, which cleared more than 600,000 contracts last year alone. Its launch has been the basis of Nymex's resurgence in the clearing of power market contracts over the last three years.

Dan Dicker has appeared as an energy analyst since 2002 with all the major financial news networks. He has lent his expertise in hundreds of live radio and television broadcasts as an analyst of the oil markets on CNBC, Bloomberg US and UK and CNNfn. Dan is the author of many energy articles published in Nymex and other trade journals.

Dan obtained a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1982.

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