The Rising Star of Patriot Coal

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Even as this coal miner's shares dipped violently Tuesday following a dastardly 12th consecutive loss in the second quarter, the company's star remains in the beginning stages of a long-term ascent.

Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX  ) 's stock shed more than 10% after the company reported a net loss of $12.4 million. The market appeared unimpressed by the miner's record revenue of $632 million. Patriot's record EBITDA of $70.2 million outshines the prior-year mark by a full 73%, and its aggressive program to increase production of high-margin metallurgical coal by more than 37% over the next couple of years offers powerful hints of enhanced profitability to come.

There can be no shadow of a doubt about it: Coal is locked securely onto a track that leads through a long-term secular bull market. Encouraged by reliable and widely corroborated projections for a decade of massive growth in global demand ahead, coal producers are taking whatever steps are necessary to position themselves for the ride.

Demand for both thermal and metallurgical coal is rising fast, but miners understand that of the two, met coal is clearly the tighter market. Accordingly, CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX  ) will expand its coal export facility in Baltimore, reopen a previously idled met-coal mine, and export 50% more coal in 2011 than it did the year before. Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK  ) is targeting a met-coal output expansion of between 17% and 25% over a similar timeframe. Others are securing their output expansions through major acquisitions, as in the case of Arch Coal's (NYSE: ACI  ) deal for International Coal, or Alpha Natural Resources' (NYSE: ANR  ) game-changing play for Massey Energy.

For its part, Patriot has opted for the organic approach -- executing a "Met Build-Out" project that has already seen two new mines come online this year, with a third new mine soon to follow. In addition to elevated capital expenditures, the miner will see consolidated production costs rise with the proportion of met coal within the product mix. But I believe met-coal margins will expand at a sufficient clip to render the higher cost structure quite harmless, and therefore I view the market's intensely negative response to Patriot's second-quarter results as a clear buying opportunity for long-term investors. I was eager to reinitiate my "outperform" rating on Patriot's shares within my silverminer CAPS portfolio, and this double-digit drop strikes me as an ideal opportunity.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets, and he owns shares of Teck Resources. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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