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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: McGraw-Hill, Bill Barrett, Linn Energy, Forest Oil and Apache

CHICAGO, April 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. (NYSE:MHP), Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE:BBG), Linn Energy LLC (Nasdaq:LINE), Forest Oil Corp. (NYSE:FST) and Apache Corp. (NYSE:APA).

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Here are highlights from Tuesday's Analyst Blog:

EIA Reports Bullish Nat Gas Draw

The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed a larger-than-expected decrease in natural gas supplies on account of cold temperatures that spurred the commodity's demand for heating.

About the Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report

The Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report – brought out by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) every Thursday since 2002 – includes updates on natural gas market prices, the latest storage level estimates, recent weather data and other market activities or events.

The report provides an overview of the level of reserves and their movements, thereby helping investors understand the demand/supply dynamics of natural gas. It is an indicator of current gas prices and volatility that affect businesses of natural gas-weighted companies and related support plays.

Analysis of the Data

Stockpiles held in underground storage in the lower 48 states fell by 95 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended Mar 22, 2013, higher than the guided range (of 83–87 Bcf drawdown) as per the analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. (NYSE: MHP).

The decrease represents the 18th withdrawal of the 2012-2013 winter heating season after stocks hit an all-time high in early November last year. Moreover, the draw was in contrast to last year's injection of 45 Bcf and the five-year (2008–2012) average addition of 6 Bcf for the reported week.

Following the past week's reduction, the current storage level – at 1.781 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) – is down 642 Bcf (26.5%) from the last year but is still 61 Bcf (3.5%) above the five-year average.

In fact, natural gas inventories in underground storage have persistently exceeded the five-year average since late Sep 2011 and ended the usual summer stock-building season of April through October at a record 3.923 Tcf (as of Oct 31, 2012).

A supply glut kept the natural gas prices under pressure during the couple of years or so, as production from dense rock formations (shale) – through novel techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – remain robust, thereby overwhelming demand.

However, with the U.S. winter colder than the unusually warm last one, we are experiencing some balancing of the commodity's supply/demand disparity on the back of its more normalized use for space heating by residential/commercial consumers.

This, in turn, could improve the prices and buoy natural gas producers, particularly smaller players like Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE: BBG), Linn Energy LLC (Nasdaq: LINE) and Forest Oil Corp. (NYSE: FST). With an improvement in the companies' ability to generate positive earnings surprises, they can then move higher from their current Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). 

Apache Acquires 14 GoM Leases

U.S. energy firm Apache Corp. (NYSE:APA) recently claimed 14 leases in the central region of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GoM) in an auction under the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The addition will fortify its already significant foothold in the region.

Apache was apparently the highest bidder in nine shallow water blocks and five deepwater blocks in the lease sale. The auction took place in New Orleans and received 407 bids from 52 companies on 320 tracts.

Among the nine shallow water blocks, Apache formed joint ventures on seven in the Main Pass area as an operator and held 75% working interest in the same. Apache holds 100% working interest in the remaining two shelf leases.

In each of the five deepwater blocks – which were acquired in DeSoto Canyon, Green Canyon and Mississippi Canyon lease areas – Apache holds 50% working interest.

The company spent $2.2 million for the shelf and $24.6 million for deepwater blocks. With this addition, Apache will get hold of over 500 leases in the GoM region in total.

Apache currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), implying that it is expected to perform in line with the broader U.S. equity market over the next 1 to 3 months.

We think Apache is in a better position to weather the current uncertain environment than many of its peers in the exploration and production space, given its solid production growth outlook, strong financial health and diversified asset base.

However, Apache's long-term production and reserve growth primarily depends on its acquire-and-exploit model. Apache may find it difficult to complete accretive transactions in the future, which could negatively impact its growth rate.

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Zacks Equity Research provides the best of quantitative and qualitative analysis to help investors know what stocks to buy and which to sell for the long-term.

Continuous coverage is provided for a universe of 1,150 publicly traded stocks. Our analysts are organized by industry which gives them keen insights to developments that affect company profits and stock performance. Recommendations and target prices are six-month time horizons.

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