I have spoken at length about how the fertilizer space still looks strong. But there's one fertilizer company that is not only doing well and growing fast, but its stock, too, seems to be less volatile than the market. Its time to get serious about CF Industries (NYSE: CF ) , Fools. Here's why.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given us the biggest reason to keep a tab on CF. It has predicted the highest-ever corn plantations by U.S. farmers this year, which jibes with CF's own forecast. CF could be better placed to profit than peers PotashCorp (NYSE: POT ) and Mosaic (NYSE: MOS ) if this comes true, as CF concentrates on nitrogen -- a key nutrient in corn production -- while PotashCorp and Mosaic focus more on potash and phosphate. Also, unlike Mosaic and PotashCorp, CF hasn't cut down on production.
The forecast aside, CF's solid fourth-quarter numbers are also proof of the ongoing strength of its business.
High revenue, low cost
The 46% jump in CF's nitrogen sales came as no surprise, considering how the prices of nutrients have surged. During the fourth quarter, CF's average selling prices for ammonia and urea ammonium nitrate, or UAN, shot up 40% and 72%, respectively. Urea prices were 41% higher. No wonder CF's total revenue climbed an awesome 42% to $1.7 billion from the comparable period last year.
Apart from the robust top-line growth, what really caught my eye was the astounding 79% jump in CF's gross profits, as lower natural-gas input costs combined with high product prices. CF realized a cost of $4.06 per MMBtu, compared to $4.29 per MMBtu a year ago. Backed by higher revenue and lower costs, CF's net profits more than doubled to $438.9 million.
Gearing up for the future
Rising global demand kept CF's plants running at full capacity throughout last year, and the company is now busy hiking capacity further. It started a 500,000-ton-per-year ammonia expansion project recently. CF is also ramping up its nitrogen capacity by removing production bottlenecks from ammonia plants that came along with the acquisition of Terra Industries. This acquisition has, in fact, made CF the largest North American producer of nitrogen.
CF's focus on higher ammonia-to-UAN upgrading looks interesting, too. The company recently started upgrading an additional 200,000 tons per year of ammonia to UAN. UAN is highly valued, and its profitability has prompted even CVR Partners (NYSE: UAN ) to convert a major chunk of its ammonia production to UAN in its last quarter.
Moreover, CF's plants possess enough flexibility to switch between products as the market demands. This shouldn't make it very tough for the company to adjust its production according to current needs.
The Foolish bottom line
If the points above don't sound good enough, picture this: CF is one of the few companies that generates cash flows higher than net income. Its debt level is manageable, too, and the company is a consistent dividend payer (it currently yields 0.9%).
CF is a great package of solid business, good growth, and decent returns. It definitely deserves a spot on your watchlist. Stay updated on all its news and analysis by adding it to our free and personalized stock-tracking service. Click here to add CF to your stock watchlist.