It hasn't been a great first half for Heckmann (NYSE: HEK ) . The company's stock has lost over half its value as a natural gas exploration shakeout continues to dent valuations across the energy industry:
The future is full of uncertainties, so much so that Heckmann's CEO has suspended guidance for the remainder of the year. We'll have to explore Heckmann's future with that fog in our faces. Will we find answers to our questions, or will this company's prospects always be so obscured?
1. Will nat-gas drilling rebound?
Natural gas drillers have been reducing their rig counts from 2008's high, but nat-gas production continues to improve, as my fellow Fool Travis Hoium pointed out earlier this month. That's not a positive trend for Heckmann, which provides the fluid for initial fracking operations. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) , Heckmann's largest customer by revenue, is attempting to shift away from natural gas, which could further depress potential earnings.
Heckmann's also focused in three areas of heavy nat-gas exploration, so a swing in American rig counts in either direction is likely to have an outsized effect on the company's fortunes. It's more tied to locations than services providers such as Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) , since delivering thousands of gallons of water profitably demands an efficient pipeline infrastructure.
2. Can Heckmann keep doing more with less?
Heckmann's latest earnings, though taken poorly by the market, contained a few positive nuggets of information. Among them was the acknowledgement that Heckmann's pumping more water to each rig than it was a year ago. The aforementioned pipelines are also allowing the company to greatly reduce its delivery costs. Heckmann's also working on technology initiatives to streamline its operations, which can get complex when spread over 20,000 customers in 24 states. Capital costs can't remain inordinately high while the company's debt so greatly exceeds its available cash.
3. Can Heckmann diversify?
Heckmann's touted its relationship with Halliburton, but working with Waste Management (NYSE: WM ) and Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) are more interesting, and might be more important indicators of the company's long-term sustainability. These are part of Heckmann's expanded environmental services division, which will soon do the dirty work of disposing the water Heckmann's customers don't want sloshing around.
Water gets used in a wide range of dirty industrial processes, so expanding its repertoire in this way should help insulate Heckmann from potentially devastating natural-gas price swings. It may not become Heckmann's bread and butter, but reducing the weight of fracking-sourced deliveries on revenue is a smart idea in any case.
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