Who knows why Mirant (NYSE: MIR ) has lagged the stocks of other independent power producers since its return to the land of the living (or at least solvent)? Maybe people were worried about natural gas prices or environmental regulations. Or maybe they were just miffed that they didn't see a big enough pop relative to NRG Energy's (NYSE: NRG ) performance when it came back in '03/'04.
Whatever the case, Mirant is seeing some renewed love today; investors have pushed the shares up about 5% in response to earnings. And this may just be a harbinger of things to come.
I won't be spending a lot of time talking about revenue or net income today. I wouldn't go so far as to say that those figures are irrelevant, but most of the folks who pay attention to this sector give more credence to adjusted EBITDA and free cash flow. And by those metrics, Mirant did pretty well -- delivering a doubling of adjusted EBITDA and about $1.52 in self-reported adjusted free cash flow.
Although some of these independent producers who hedge occasionally take flak for those decisions (some argue they should just be pure plays on energy, irrespective of the chaos that inflicts on results and planning), it seemed to pay off for Mirant this quarter. This was a pretty mild winter, and that led to lower-than-normal generating demand, but the company came through it alright, thanks in part to those hedges.
While Mirant's balance sheet is freshly strengthened, it certainly still has some vulnerabilities. Short-term moves in natural gas prices are mostly just noise, but I think it's fair to say it has a vested interest in higher natural gas prices, since that allows for higher electricity prices (set by gas prices) but better margins from using coal fuel. And with talk of possible consolidation in the sector, there could be some momentum-laced volatility.
I like a few of the power players in this sector, and Mirant is one of them. Weather, economic conditions, and fuel prices can't be excluded or ignored as potential sources of trouble, but this seems to be a sector that's learned from its mistakes. And that might make this stock worth a solid look.
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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).