NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The deterioration in crude prices can also impact natural gas, but that won't stop gas producer Range Resources (RRC) from growing its output at an annual rate of more than 20% over the next few years, thanks to its low-cost asset base.
The prices of benchmark WTI and Brent crudes have cratered over the last three months, falling by nearly 34% in that period. And this can also have a negative impact on natural gas prices.
Why? Gas is often shipped as liquefied natural gas, or LNG, particularly during exports. Those LNG contracts around the world are benchmarked to oil prices, explained Raymond James' analyst Pavel Molchanov, in an email last month.
The persistent weakness in oil prices, however, will not be enough to halt the growing production from Appalachia, home of Pennsylvania and West Virginia's Marcellus Shale formation, the largest shale gas-producing region of the United States, according to a recent report by Goldman Sachs's analyst Brian Singer. The region offers the best economics as compared to other large oil and gas producing regions in the U.S.
The production from this area could climb by 3.5 billion to 4 billion cubic feet a day, each year through 2018, Singer estimates. This positive trend will also work out well for MarkWest Energy Partners (MWE) and Kinder Morgan (KMI) , which will be transporting this gas within Marcellus as well as to other parts of the country.
With one million net acres in and around Marcellus, Range Resources has the "leading position in the largest and lowest-cost shale gas play in the U.S.," wrote UBS' William Featherston in his most recent report. This will play a crucial role in driving the region's production growth. It has also allowed the company to capture a trailing 12-month gross profit margin of 84%, 2.3 times greater than the industry's average, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based gas producer has secured agreements to transport around 1.12 billion cubic feet of gas a day in 2014, which, Featherston predicts, could gradually increase to 2.4 billion cubic feet a day by 2018.
More than 85% of these volumes will be coming from Southwest Pennsylvania, the company's core operations. Beyond 2018, the company says that new production capacity and additional contracts should allow it to grow its Marcellus production to more than 3 billion cubic feet a day.
Overall, Range Resources is on track to increase its output by 25% this year, Featherston said, and could continue growing its volumes in the range of 20% to 25% per annum over the next few years.
As per data compiled by UBS, Range Resources will deliver better production growth per share, on a debt-adjusted basis, than the average of its oil and gas producing peers through 2018, such as Southwestern Energy (SWN) , Ultra Petroleum (UPL) , Whiting Petroleum (WLL) and Newfield Exploration (NFX) .
Furthermore, Range Resources holds a massive inventory of untapped resources. The company's proven reserves base of 8.2 trillion cubic feet equivalents represents just a fraction of what it could potentially hold. Featherston believes that the company's "unbooked resource base" could be more than nine times greater than its proven reserves. With ongoing exploration work, the company will likely grow its proven reserve base in the future.
Range resources has also been clamping down on costs, which puts it in a strong position to weather a depressed natural gas pricing environment. The company has successfully lowered its production costs in each year since 2009. Overall, the unit costs have dropped by 34% from 2008 to $2.84 per thousand cubic feet of gas in 2013. Wednesday the company reiterated its forecast during a presentation of lowering its costs by an additional 7% this year to $2.64 per thousand cubic feet.
Range Resources did not respond to email and phone messages from TheStreet requesting comments. The company's shares have dropped by37 % this year
TheStreet Ratings team rates RANGE RESOURCES CORP as a Hold with a ratings score of C. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate RANGE RESOURCES CORP (RRC) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed ? some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, impressive record of earnings per share growth and compelling growth in net income. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including weak operating cash flow and a generally disappointing performance in the stock itself."
You can view the full analysis from the report here: RRC Ratings Report