Why This Company Remains 1 of the Best Coal Stocks in America

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Quarter after quarter, Alliance Resource Partners (NASDAQ: ARLP  ) defies the broad woes afflicting the coal industry in the United States. Alliance Resource seems to produce record results every single quarter, despite the widespread predictions of coal's imminent demise. While other major coal miners are struggling to keep shipment volumes and realized prices afloat, Alliance Resource Partners has no such issues.

That's why investors looking to find the one coal company still thriving in the current environment should look no further than Alliance Resource Partners.

Strong performance across the board
Alliance Resource Partners performed excellently in the fourth quarter as well as in fiscal 2013. Revenue hit a record in the fourth quarter. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization also grew in the fourth quarter. For the full year, revenue grew 8.4% and EBITDA increased by 18%. In 2013, Alliance Resource Partners generated record revenue, coal sales volumes, EBITDA, and net income.

Alliance Resource posted record results for the 13th consecutive year. Its performance stands in stark contrast to the widespread struggles facing the entire coal industry. Consider how badly Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU  )  has performed throughout the fiscal year. Peabody Energy's adjusted earnings crumbled by more than 80% through the first nine months of 2013.

Peabody is set to release its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on Jan. 30, and management isn't painting a bright picture for the company. Peabody expects its business deterioration to continue in the fourth quarter. Management warns investors that its coal revenue per ton will decline as much as 10% for 2013, and full-year earnings per share will likely fall more than 50% from 2012.

Alliance Resource Partners is able to produce such strong results while others struggle because it operates at a distinct geographic advantage. Alliance Resource Partners generates most of its coal from the Illinois Basin and Northern Appalachian regions, where pricing remains favorable. Alliance Resource Partners has 11 existing mines in these regions, which are producing strongly and contributing to its fantastic results.

This is why Alliance Resource's results are so much better than those from Alpha Natural Resources  (NASDAQOTH: ANRZQ  ) . Alpha Natural Resources is a major provider of Eastern steam coal, which is an extremely poor-performing segment on the coal market. Alpha Natural's shipments of Eastern steam coal collapsed 31% in the most recent quarter. Through the first nine months of the year, Alpha Natural's coal shipments are down 20%. It's also realizing significantly lower prices. Over the first three quarters, Alpha Natural's coal margin has dropped by half.

Alliance Resource fully expects growth in the current year as well, thanks to favorable pricing, which is expected to continue in 2014. Alliance Resource has 87% of its 2014 coal sales volumes already priced and committed. The company fully expects to post another increase in coal sales and production volumes in the year ahead.

Alliance Resource's distribution: Icing on the cake
Since Alliance Resource Partners is structured as a master limited partnership, it's required to distribute the majority of its cash flow to investors in exchange for a favorable tax structure. That means investors receive a hefty yield in addition to strong underlying growth. Fortunately, management takes the distribution very seriously.

Alliance Resource increases its dividend on a quarterly basis. It did so again after announcing fourth-quarter results. Alliance Resource's new quarterly distribution is 8% higher than it was this time last year. In all, the company has increased its distribution for 23 consecutive quarters.

Most other coal companies are struggling mightily to remain profitable. Alliance Resource Partners doesn't have to worry, since it's reporting record results quarter after quarter. And, the upcoming year is expected to be another one of strong profits. In addition, its hefty distribution, which the company grows every quarter, is simply icing on the cake. Not all coal companies are suffering, and for evidence of that, look no further than Alliance Resource Partners.

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Bob Ciura

Bob Ciura, MBA, has written for The Motley Fool since 2012. I focus on energy, consumer goods, and technology. I look for growth at a reasonable price, with a particular fondness for market-beating dividend yields.

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