Tropical Water

So, you want a play in the water services space, but you think domestic utilities like AquaAmerica (NYSE: WTR  ) and American States (NYSE: AWR  ) are a little too dull for you? Don't want to bother with the French companies Veolia (NYSE: VE  ) and Suez (NYSE: SZE  ) ? Well, mon, maybe you need to think Caribbean.

Even though Consolidated Water (Nasdaq: CWCO  ) might very well be the most boring company name on the planet, this is a decidedly spicy little water story. It's got some similarities to Mexican airport operator Grupo Aeroportuario Del Sureste (NYSE: ASR  ) -- namely, that if tourists keep flocking to where it operates, business prospects look pretty good. Even better, Consolidated Water produces an essential resource in parts of the world that have few other alternatives for fresh water.

Revenue for the fourth quarter was up more than 40%, while adjusted net income climbed 10% (adjusted, that is, for a year-ago insurance benefit). For the full fiscal year, retail water sales were up more than 10% and bulk water sales were up nearly 14%.

Demand already appears to be picking up in early 2006, as some new golf course activity in the Caymans is sucking up more water. Demand is also strong across the company's operating territory. Consolidated has recently added capacity to a plant in the Caymans and built a large storage tank in Belize, where it is also increasing the capacity of a saltwater conversion plant. Elsewhere, it's building new plants in the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands, and bidding on new facilities in Bermuda and Barbados.

All in all, the demand picture is pretty good here. There's always the risk that hurricanes will damage or destroy hotels and/or the company's plants, thus scaring tourists away, but I don't believe tourists will permanently avoid Caribbean destinations. As long as more people keep visiting, the demand (and price) for water should keep rising.

Now, if only this stock were cheap. I'm not troubled by the negative free cash flow; the company's new plant builds have essentially guaranteed revenue waiting for them, and the company's balance sheet is in pretty respectable shape. But even with that in mind, I'm still not wild about paying current multiples.

If you're a more aggressive and/or growth-oriented Fool, by all means take a long look here. Just remember, though, that sometimes being too greedy with tropical water can give you a stomachache later on.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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