Analysis: China gas reforms spark investment boom

Wed May 9, 2012 5:36pm EDT
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By Charlie Zhu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's big state companies, confident on the outlook for domestic natural gas reforms, are buying up local distributors and raising fresh capital - and making gas the hottest prospect for energy investment in the world's top energy consumer.

The prospects for expansion and acquisitions also have China's natural gas distributors trading like growth stocks, instead of bog-standard utilities.

China is pushing energy price reforms and spending billions of dollars on gas imports and infrastructure to cut the use of coal, which supplies over 70 percent of its energy but has made it the world leader in mine accidents and greenhouse emissions, and among the worst in air pollution.

While nuclear power and renewables such as solar and wind are also benefiting from the shift, for now gas looks set to gain the most, since plentiful supplies and its use in industrial production and conventional thermal power plants mean it can be developed quickly and efficiently.

"Natural gas is clean energy that is enjoying a lot of state policy support," said Liu Yang, chief investment officer of regional fund house Atlantis, which manages $4 billion and holds shares of Hong Kong-listed Chinese city gas distributors.

"The city gas sector has been under-invested and is just about to take off," she said.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed distributors, which include ENN (2688.HK: Quote), China Gas Holdings (0384.HK: Quote), China Resources Gas (1193.HK: Quote), Kunlun Energy 0135.HK and Beijing Enterprises 0392.HK, have risen as much as 37 percent over the past 12 months.

The sector, with a combined market value around $32 billion, boasts valuations of more than 20 times historical earnings, and investors and analysts remain upbeat about its prospects.   Continued...