Investors love stocks that consistently beat the Street without getting ahead of their fundamentals and risking a meltdown. The best stocks offer sustainable market-beating gains, with robust and improving financial metrics that support strong price growth. Does Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P.
(NYSE:TNH) fit the bill? Let’s look at what its recent results tell us about its potential for future gains.
What we’re looking for
The graphs you’re about to see tell Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P. (NYSE:TNH)’s story, and we’ll be grading the quality of that story in several ways:
Growth: Are profits, margins, and free cash flow all increasing?
Valuation: Is share price growing in line with earnings per share?
Opportunities: Is return on equity increasing while debt to equity declines?
Dividends: Are dividends consistently growing in a sustainable way?
What the numbers tell you
Now, let’s take a look at Terra’s key statistics:
|Passing Criteria||3-Year* Change||Grade|
|Revenue growth > 30%||53.7%||Pass|
|Improving profit margin||79.3%||Pass|
|Free cash flow growth > Net income growth||279.4% vs. 215.6%||Pass|
|Stock growth (+ 15%) < EPS growth||145.3% vs. 215.9%||Pass|
|Passing Criteria||3-Year* Change||Grade|
|Improving return on equity||125.2%||Pass|
|Declining debt to equity||No debt||Pass|
|Dividend growth > 25%||190.4%||Pass|
|Free cash flow payout ratio < 100%**||106.3%||Fail|
How we got here and where we’re going
Terra very narrowly misses out on a perfect nine out of nine passing grades. Had we analyzed the company a year ago, it might well have passed — Terra’s dividend payouts were lower than its free cash flow in 2011. And those dividend payouts have been huge and hugely attractive, as the company hasn’t financed its payout with debt at all despite maintaining a yield in excess of 7% for years. Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P. (NYSE:TNH)’s already achieved greatness for early shareholders, but is it destined for more? Let’s take a look.
As a publicly traded subsidiary of fertilizer maker CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CF), Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P. (NYSE:TNH) gets beneficial access to the natural gas feedstock available to its parent. Since both companies operate on similar manufacturing models, we can also use CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CF) as a gauge of Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P. (NYSE:TNH)’s potential. This year, CF is improving — especially on the bottom line. Its earnings per share grew 30% year-over-year as of its most recent report, thanks almost entirely to the plummeting costs of natural gas. The problem Terra faces is that it’s less able to adapt to changing market trends than its larger parent. Natural gas prices are pretty much the end-all for Terra, although higher capital expenditures and production agreements with CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CF) can impact the MLP’s ultimate profitability. Where are natural gas prices going? It sure looks like the wrong direction, as far as Terra’s profitability is concerned:
That’s not a good trend for nitrogen-using fertilizer makers. We’ve already seen some indication that steady profit growth may be ending, as fellow nitrogen fertilizer MLP CVR Partners LP (NYSE:UAN) reported results virtually identical to last year’s, instead of enjoying strong growth as it has in the past. The one thing in these companies’ favor is the simple fact that farmers need fertilizer, now perhaps more than ever in light of persistent droughts that are making every alternative to watering more valuable. That can help maintain Terra’s profitability in the face of rising input prices, but for how long? Farmers can only bend so far before their finances break.
Putting the pieces together
Today, Terra Nitrogen Company, L.P. (NYSE:TNH) has many of the qualities that make up a great stock, but no stock is truly perfect. Digging deeper can help you uncover the answers you need to make a great buy — or to stay away from a stock that’s going nowhere.
The article Is Terra Nitrogen’s Stock Destined for Greatness? originally appeared on Fool.com is written by Alex Planes.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter, @TMFBiggles, for more insight into markets, history, and technology.The Motley Fool owns shares of CF Industries Holdings (NYSE:CF).
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