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Whoever spilled the beans to The Wall Street Journal that Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE ) is weighing a set of strategic options -- including a possible sale of the company -- sure didn't make the task any easier for Massey.
By triggering a hefty surge in the share price -- despite having settled slightly to just a 6% gain as of this writing -- this leak has undoubtedly removed some portion of the bargaining power that Massey's board would have at its disposal in negotiating a sale of the company. Not surprisingly, the company declined to comment on the swirling speculation.
The task at hand now for investors is to mull their own set of strategic options. How Fools decide whether to buy, sell, or hold Massey shares may hinge on some of the following considerations.
The horrific accident at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in April caused lasting damage to the Massey name. And let's face it; the name was not exactly squeaky clean before the accident. I believe that an outright sale to a competitor represents the best way forward for shareholders, and even after Tuesday's surge in price I believe sufficient wiggle room remains to get an attractive deal done.
I consider anything below $50 per share for Massey Energy an attractive bargain for a growth-hungry rival. Of Massey's 2.8 billion tons of coal in reserves, nearly half (1.3 billion tons) represents highly coveted metallurgical coal. A resulting sales price of $2.12 per ton (using a hypothetical $50-per-share transaction), for reserves of this quality composition, is an opportunity that I believe several potential suitors may line up for.
Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR ) is the first name I look to as a likely suitor for Massey. Like Massey, Alpha enjoys an attractive blend of steam and metallurgical coal grades within its reserve base. Back in August, I remarked that Alpha's bulging liquidity rendered the miner well-positioned for another round of acquisitive growth to follow last year's bolt on of Foundation Coal Holdings. That $2 billion transaction priced Foundations assets at a lowly $1.18 per ton, but lower-priced steam coal accounted for 90% of Foundation's sales revenue.
Runner-up among the potential suitors that I can identify is Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) . Fools may recall that Cliffs nearly gobbled up Alpha back in 2008 for a cool $10 billion. Alpha held only 617.5 million tons of coal in reserves at the time, so a move for Massey's 2.8 billion tons at a substantial discount to that ditched Alpha bid could look mighty attractive to Cliffs at this stage.
Of course, it's easier to speculate as to which companies are decidedly not in the running for Massey. Consol Energy (NYSE: CNX ) is still fresh from a major transformation into a combined coal and natural gas producer, and until the stock gets back on its feet I see only an organic growth process in the works. In addition to hovering well beneath my estimation of fair value, Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX ) is just nowhere near large enough to swallow a behemoth like Massey. Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) certainly possesses the necessary heft, but the very spinoff of Patriot Coal reveals a strategic decision to distance itself from the Appalachian basins entirely.
Notwithstanding all this enjoyable speculation about Massey's pending fate, it goes without saying that Massey's board could be dreaming up a strategic plan that moves in an entirely different direction. The same article that triggered all this buzz also suggested that Massey may consider an acquisitive path of its own. While I appreciate the bargain inherent in Massey's present share price in relation to the company's ample coal reserves, I view the present environment for equities as far too uncertain for excessive speculation into potential developments of this sort.
What do you make of all this buzz surrounding Massey Energy? Is it all much ado about nothing, or is an outright sale just around the corner? Your fellow readers look forward to reading your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.