Vertex (NASDAQ:VTNR) is a hated company. Q2 results were an almost unmitigated disaster. The CEO has sold stock. The company ultimately gave up perhaps $90M of value with its hedging strategy. They reduced Q3 guidance last month. Short interest is running at over 30%. However, in valuation terms there may be an opportunity for those willing to bear various risks and management's credibility issues.
Q2 results were so bad, that Q3 results may offer some signs of encouragement and the company's renewable diesel plans could be a source of further upside in 2023. Importantly, crack spread futures do suggest that the company may be able to maintain an attractive profit stream into 2025 and beyond.
It's worth jumping to the valuation first as that underpins the investment case.
|Value of Mobile refinery||$1,243M||10 x $125M net income (normalized $10/barrel margin with $4/barrel of costs), 95% utilization, 20% tax rate|
|Super-normal refinery profits in Q3 and Q4||$65M||estimate $33M in Q3 (inc. +$13M inventory gain) and $48M in Q4 (hedges roll off) (after tax)|
|Legacy Assets||$140M||Value of Safety-Kleen prospective purchase|
|Biodiesel Conversion||$153M||14,000 bpd, $0.75/gallon, 95% utilization|
|Current net debt less offsetting inventory||-$98M||debt including inventory financing less $201M inventory and $98M cash|
|Remaining capex to complete biodiesel plant||-$120M||estimated cost|
|Assuming working capital spend to ramp up biodiesel plant||-$50M||rough estimate|
|Resulting equity value||$1,549||sum of the above|
|Benefit for convertible debt conversion||$1,594||+$45M net value of converts|
|Resulting valuation per share (inc. convertible dilution)||$16.30||97.8M shares outstanding (inc. convertible dilution)|
Since the refinery matters so much, here are some sensitivities to the multiple and spreads (all values assumed convertibles are dilutive, which is punitive at prices below $15/share)
|5x PE||10x PE||15x PE|
|$5 spread barrel ($4 costs)||$4.65||$5.71|| |
|$10 spread/barrel ($4 costs)||$9.95||$16.31|| |
|$20 spread/barrel ($4 costs)||$20.55||$37.51||$54.47|
Thus, downside is clearly possible if spreads do revert to long-term averages or worse. Still, the futures market and the trends in terms of lack of new capacity and the disrupted European energy market suggest profits may stay high for a few years. If not, where is the incremental capacity that would typically bring down prices?
To say Vertex Energy's Q2 results were a train wreck would be unfair to train wrecks. The company reassuringly guided to robust results after the transformational acquisition of Shell's (SHEL) refinery, then management (the CEO and a director) sold material amounts of stock, then results were well below guidance. Management lost money on hedges and spreads. All this against a less attractive version of the crack spread (2/1/1 vs. 3/2/1).
The main asset on my valuation numbers above is the Shell refinery. Yes, the company has legacy assets and a conversion project, but the refinery is the main variable driving my valuation numbers.
It is therefore important that RBOB crack spread futures are trading in a $13-$27 range (per barrel) through to 2025, with the fluctuations mainly due to seasonality. Note that these spreads have limited correlated to Mobile's spreads (given diesel, jet fuel production etc.), but they give an indication of market direction.
There are no plans to add refining capacity in the U.S. in fact, refineries are being shut down or converted to green fuels. Therefore, refineries may remain attractive assets for some time if the futures curve is robust, which seems a fair assumption.
Also, as much as management failed to deliver on expectations for Q2, I believe they did a great job buying the Mobile refinery. After inventory spending the total cost (before any biodiesel work) is perhaps $300M and yet it's fairly easy to arrive at a valuation 3x-4x that number. Yes, some of that value is due to the Ukraine war, but not all.
Q3 results may improve on Q2 numbers. Obviously, take that with a pinch of salt given reduced guidance and management's track record here. However, +$13M of inventory sales missing from Q2 should land in Q3 and the company's hedging situation may improve perhaps by +$20M. Then if the underlying profit is down to perhaps $20M based on higher costs, tighter spreads and lower volumes, the company may report around $53M of EBITDA pretty easily. Then in Q4 if the company is back to market rates as hedges roll off $100M of EBITDA may be possible.
This is a tough investment to get to rock-solid conviction on given the Q2 results and all the questions they generate. I expect management to continue to underperform and be a distraction to the underlying value of the business.
Still, I believe Q3 results will be a lot more in-line with expectations than Q2, and Q4 may surprise markets as hedges roll off and management has line of sight to a biodiesel start date. There are other renewable energy assets with less hair on them that are definitely also worth considering e.g., CLMT if you're ok with a K-1. But Vertex is likely cheap at these levels and the current discount may fade over the coming year.
It's also noteworthy, perhaps, that in writing this, I have been tempted to bring down numbers, generally be conservative and caveat everything given how bad Q2 was. If others feel this in the market (and I suspect they do) then if management can just deliver a 'normal' Q3 and Q4 there's an implicit discount here, that may fade over time.
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Disclosure: I/we have a beneficial long position in the shares of VTNR 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.
Additional disclosure: Not intended as investment advice. Author's opinion only. May contain inaccuracies and may not be updated. Author's holdings may change without notice. Investment involves risk of permanent loss. Consult a professional before any investment decisions.