CF Industries: Europe's Crisis Is This Company's Opportunity

Sep. 21, 2022 5:20 PM ETCF Industries Holdings, Inc. (CF)5 Comments


  • The energy crisis in Europe is forcing European fertilizer companies to halt production. This supports more North American fertilizer demand as European supply gets cut off.
  • CF's recent insider sales are a small proportion of their large holdings of the company. Clearly, insiders will look to diversify their position over time.
  • Earlier in 2022, investors bid up CF, but capital flows have now moved out. However, the fundamental case today is even stronger than at the start of 2022.
  • Presently, CF is priced at 5x free cash flow. This low valuation leaves plenty of margin of safety for negative expected outcomes.
  • Looking for a portfolio of ideas like this one? Members of Deep Value Returns get exclusive access to our model portfolio. Learn More »

Chemical fertilizer.

Srinuan Hirunwat/iStock via Getty Images

Investment Thesis

I recently made the case to DVR members that CF Industries (NYSE:CF) is very well positioned for high nitrogen prices.

Here's the context, with natural gas prices in Europe sky-high there's simply no way for European fertilizer producers to compete against US-based manufactured fertilizer. Even if at the start of 2022 investors came to realize that, capital flows have still pulled back and have migrated away.

This has left CF priced at 5x this year's free cash flows. I lay out different scenarios to help readers think through some of the positive and negative considerations affecting this investment.

Ultimately, I'm confident you'll agree, that this is a particularly interesting and exciting investment opportunity.

Putting Recent Insider Sales in Context

There was a big deal made on Seeking Alpha that insiders sold $18 million worth of stock. However, keep in mind that the biggest sale, $11 million worth of stock, was made by CEO Tony Will.

And despite CEO Will selling such a chunk of his holding, he still has $32 million worth of CF stock.

Indeed, if the CEO and others didn't sell his stock their stock from time to time, how else would they diversify their holding? Having $32 million worth of equity in a company is plenty of skin in the game. Particularly given that management will get further stock-based compensation over time.

I personally don't see these equity sales in a negative light.

Why CF Industries? Why Now?

CF Industries produces nitrogen fertilizer products.

As you can see above, nitrogen prices, those of concentrated ammonium nitrate solution (''UAN'') have come down in the past few months.

The reason for this is that nitrogen prices are so high relative to last year that many farmers are now working very hard to put off buying more until next year.

But the reason why I'm bullish on CF is that I recognize that with energy prices so high in Europe, there's simply no way for European peers to profitably produce fertilizer.

However, the demand for fertilizer hasn't gone away. It's simply that it's much cheaper for farmers to get the fertilizer from the US and ship it across rather than buy it from local farmers at exorbitant prices.

This leaves North American fertilizer producers with a moat around their fundamentals, as companies elsewhere in the world don't have access to the very cheap natural gas feedstock that North American producers such as CF Industries have. Even though, it should be noted that CF Industries also has some minor exposure to Europe.

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

CF Industries Q2 2022 presentation

CF Industries Q2 2022 presentation

Altogether, through CF's strong free cash flow generation, together with consistent buybacks, CF Industries has been consistently reducing the total number of shares outstanding.

The bars show free cash flow increasing significantly in the past two years, while the total number of shares outstanding, the green line, is coming down.

That means more free cash flow per share. Along these lines, CF's management said during their Q2 2022 earnings call,

Given this outlook, we expect to generate substantial free cash flow for an extended period. This will enable us to return significant capital to shareholders, while we also make disciplined investments to grow our low-carbon ammonia production footprint.

CF Stock Valuation - Approximately 5x FCF

The reason why CF isn't more expensive is that it's difficult to get much visibility right now into what price nitrogen will be at in 2023.

Simply put, there's a lot of uncertainty in the market, and investors hate uncertainty second only to bad news.

That being said, even if in 2023 prices come down around 15% to 20%, that wouldn't take away from the fact that CF is still very attractively priced.

In fact, if CF Industries' free cash flow only increases slightly from $3.6 billion over its trailing twelve months, to $4 billion by year-end, this would still leave the stock priced at just 5x this year's free cash flows.

Now, as noted above, this does not detract from the fact that investors right now have absolutely no visibility into 2023.

That typically wouldn't be a huge problem. But given that the market is so stretched and volatile investors are probably worried that nitrogen prices could seriously sell-off.

However, even if I simply don't see that as a likely scenario, I should still give myself a margin of safety for unlikely events.

The way I get comfortable with this is this. If I assume that nitrogen prices were to come down by approximately 30%, that would have an impact of as much as 50% on the free cash flow line. This is assuming that CF isn't able to mitigate the lower costs, given its high fixed cost structure.

That would still allow CF to print around $2 to $2.2 billion of free cash flow in 2022. That would still leave the stock priced at less than 10x its 2023 free cash flow.

The Bottom Line

Like any investment, there are many moving parts and no guarantees here.

Presently, nitrogen prices are proving to be quite sticky. And even though I believe that many farmers will do everything they can to extend their fertilizer inventory, my thesis is contingent on the fact that farmers in North America and Europe simply can't do without fertilizer to adequately grow crops.

CF Q2 2022 presentation

CF Q2 2022 presentation

What's more, I contend that even if nitrogen prices were to sell off in 2023, CF Industries would still be priced at approximately 10x free cash flow. Offering investors a 10% yield on their holding.

In that event, if CF's free cash flow did get cut in half, CF's shares would simply revert back to the long-term average. This perspective will go some way to add support to the investment case.

Finally, I'll conclude with one final comment from management,

And you're looking at a situation with $60 at TTF (European natural gas prices) plus as Bert said, it's $2,000 ammonia (the cost to produce ammonia) that's not where the market is trading right now ($2000 is a lot higher than the price of ammounia, that's less than $700).

So, in our view this is actually pretty constructive about the go forward. It means that the amount of production in those high-cost regions [Europe and Asia] is going to be somewhat limited.

The challenge there, of course, is it means the world is going to be incredibly tight availability of product as we get into both the winter and then into the spring next year, particularly if the situation in Europe is not resolved in the coming months because that just further pressures the whole system with winter coming.

The paragraphs above succinctly describe the thesis. There are high energy costs facing CF's peers in Europe and Asia, that's leading to a constructive market for CF, and a very tight nitrogen supply market headed into next spring.

Strong Investment Potential

My Marketplace highlights a portfolio of undervalued investment opportunities - stocks with rapid growth potential, driven by top quality management, while these stocks are cheaply valued.

I follow countless companies and select for you the most attractive investments. I do all the work of picking the most attractive stocks.

Investing Made EASY

As an experienced professional, I highlight the best stocks to grow your savings: stocks that deliver strong gains.

    • Deep Value Returns' Marketplace continues to rapidly grow.
    • Check out members' reviews.
    • High-quality, actionable insightful stock picks.
    • The place where value is everything.

This article was written by

Offering high potential upside versus the broad market
THANK YOU for all the help that everyone has so kindly offered me, in how to think about businesses from different perspectives.

DEEP VALUE RETURNS: The only Marketplace with real performance. No gimmicks. I provide a hand-holding service. Plus regular stock updates.

We are all working together to compound returns.

WARNING: Any stocks that you feel like buying after discussions with me are your responsibility.

Disclosure: I/we have a beneficial long position in the shares of CF either through stock ownership, options, or other derivatives. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Recommended For You

Comments (5)

To ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, please enable Javascript and cookies in your browser.
Is this happening to you frequently? Please report it on our feedback forum.
If you have an ad-blocker enabled you may be blocked from proceeding. Please disable your ad-blocker and refresh.