After what can only be described as an awful year, is Heckmann's (NYSE: HEK) latest earnings report finally giving beleaguered shareholders some good news? The water-services company reported record quarterly revenue of $90.8 million and posted $10.7 million in net income thanks to a deferred tax benefit. There are plenty of juicy tidbits in Heckmann's latest results, so let's take a closer look at what matters to figure out if this marks the start of a rebound, or if it's just a blip on the way to the bottom.

What the numbers tell you
Heckmann's adjusted EBITDA doubled from the year-ago quarter, to $19.3 million, boosting EBITDA margins by 2%. GAAP earnings were also boosted significantly by a $20 million tax benefit, which implies a $9.3 million adjusted loss without this one-time charge. Gross and net margins have had a difficult time keeping up with Heckmann's rapid expansion, and subsequent headwinds, in natural gas fracturing support:

Editorial

Source: Morningstar and company earnings release. Note: Accurate FCF information not available for the latest quarter.

A major part of Heckmann's big dip in free cash flow this year was the acquisition of Thermo Fluids, which has been rebranded as Heckmann Environmental Services. Acquisition costs were the single largest weight on free cash flow this year and necessitated the sale of more long-term debt, which now stands at $265.7 million as of the close of the quarter.

Heckmann also revealed a great deal of granular information on its diverse fracking support operations. The company has seen significant operational drilling rig drawdowns in the Haynesville area over the last year and a half, from 120 to just 40. Each remaining rig has boosted its water use by an average of 20% over the first quarter to about 50,000 barrels per day. That seems to signal that nat gas drillers are playing a smarter game now and focusing on areas with superior nat gas concentrations.

Revenue in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions increased 23% sequentially, and Eagle Ford shale revenue was up by 57%. With key operations in the two largest nat gas producing regions in the United States (that's Haynesville and Marcellus), Heckmann's well-positioned for an exploration rebound when natural gas prices improve. That seems to have already started, as you can see from the gains in the United States Natural Gas Fund (NYSE: UNG) after it reached all-time lows earlier this year:

US Natural Gas Wellhead Price Chart

US Natural Gas Wellhead Price data by YCharts

Looking to the future
Heckmann has offset drilling declines by signing a number of top oil and gas producers to its client list. CEO Richard Heckmann pointed this out in the company's earnings call:

Two years ago, in the second quarter of 2010, we had a handful of small independent producers as customers. In the just-completed second quarter of 2012, eight of the ten largest oil and gas producers in the U.S. are regular weekly customers of our business with several on long-term contracts. That is eight out of the ten bigs in two years from zero.

He also name-dropped several companies served by Heckmann's Environmental Services division, notably Halliburton (NYSE: HAL), which continues to perform well in its American fracking operations despite significant headwinds. By singling out Waste Management (NYSE: WM) and Barrick Gold, Heckmann also made it clear that his company won't be held hostage to fracking fluid demand. Securing the Waste Management contract was undoubtedly helped by the two top Heckmann executives recruited directly from leadership roles in that company.

Heckmann seems to be moving in the right direction, but it must still continue to diversify. At last tally, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) contributed a quarter of Heckmann's revenue, but its latest projections call for a decline in nat gas production next year. Chesapeake's ongoing management turmoil certainly won't help Heckmann's long-term stability, either. However, this latest report, combined with an earnings call full of good forward-looking information, gives shareholders some confidence that its smart moves and growing list of partnerships may soon be seen on Heckmann's bottom line.

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