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Thursday's Energy Stocks: EQT leads midstream gains; sector mixed amid earnings

Broad markets finished flat and energy equities closed mixed on Thursday, Feb. 2, amid a flurry of fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 earnings. The Dow Jones Industrial Average trickled down 0.03% to 19,884.91, and the S&P 500 inched up 0.06% to 2,280.85. The SNL Energy Index rose 0.94% to 287.27.

Shares of Xcel Energy Inc. closed up 1.87% in robust trading to settle at $41.39, after company officials said that the "steel-for-fuel strategy," first outlined during the company's third-quarter 2016 earnings discussion, will result in $3.5 billion in investments in renewable energy resources over the next five years. The company reported $227.5 million, or 45 cents per share, in ongoing earnings for the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2016, beating the S&P Capital IQ normalized consensus estimate by 1 cent.

UGI Corp. gained 2.36% on nearly double average trading volume to end at $46.83 after surpassing analyst estimates by a wide margin for the first fiscal quarter of 2017.

UGI posted adjusted net income of $160.9 million, or 91 cents per share, for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2016, up from $112.4 million, or 64 cents per share, for the prior-year period. The S&P Capital IQ consensus normalized EPS estimate for the fiscal 2017 first quarter was 76 cents.

A trading day after the release of its fourth-quarter earnings results, which beat the S&P Capital IQ normalized EPS consensus estimate by 5 cents, MDU Resources Group Inc. fell 5.03% in active trading to $26.42. MDU Resources reported fourth-quarter 2016 earnings from continuing operations of $66.3 million, or 33 cents per share, compared to $55.7 million, or 29 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2015.

CMS Energy Corp. raised its full-year 2017 adjusted earnings guidance range to $2.14 per share to $2.18 per share, representing a 6% to 8% increase, after posting earnings at the upper end of its 2016 guidance. The company also boosted its 10-year capital spending plan by $1 billion, to $18 billion. CMS Energy moved higher by 1.52% to $42.76.

The SNL Energy Small Diversified Index, of which MDU is a large member, rolled down 0.75% to 339.89 while the SNL Energy Large Diversified Index closed 0.92% higher to 209.48.

S&P Global Ratings raised its outlook on North American midstream companies from negative to stable on Feb. 1, saying the pipeline and processing sector survived the 2016 trough of low prices with imaginative moves to strengthen its balance sheets until higher commodity prices kicked back in.

Leading gains among midstream companies, EQT Corp. spiked 5.08% to settle at $63.87 while EQT Midstream Partners LP picked up 0.92% to close at $80.12, both on strong volume, following the release of their fourth-quarter financial results.

EQT posted a $192.0 million net loss attributable to the company, or a loss of $1.11 per share, in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to a loss of $134.6 million, or a loss of 88 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Meanwhile, EQT Midstream Partners reported 2016 fourth-quarter net income of $135.7 million, or $1.31 per unit, an increase from $120.3 million, or $1.26 per unit, in the year-ago quarter.

After filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Vanguard Natural Resources LLC plummeted 62.55% on more than 10 times the average volume to finish at 37 cents. The company also secured a committed $50 million debtor-in-possession financing facility and reached a restructuring support agreement with some senior note holders that is expected to clear about $708 million worth of debt.

The SNL Midstream Energy Index saw an increase of 1.07% to 126.03.

Among coal stocks, Peabody Energy Corp. dipped 0.91% to $2.18 after disclosing its preliminary financial information. Peabody collected revenue of between $4.71 billion and $4.72 billion in 2016 compared to $5.61 billion in revenue the year before.

Foresight Energy LP shed 3.63% on average volume to $6.56, Cloud Peak Energy Inc. retreated 2.75% in below-average trading to $5.31 and CNX Coal Resources LP declined 1.87% in light trading to $18.40. The SNL Coal Index dropped 0.05% to 75.56.

After maintaining a negative stance into and just beyond the midmorning release of the latest storage data, and despite the report's neutral to bearish implications, the March natural gas futures contract ended on the positive side of the ledger.

Market prices and index values are current as of the time of publication and are subject to change. S&P Global Ratings and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.