Chart Industries Earnings Update: Are Natural Gas Vehicles the Path to Growth?

If you've bought shares of Chart Industries  (NASDAQ: GTLS  ) in the past six months, I'm pretty sure you're not happy right now. Before the bounce on May 1, shares were down almost 50% since last November, while the rest of the market continued to climb:

GTLS Chart

GTLS data. Source: YCharts.

First-quarter revenue fell almost 3% to $266 million, while the market was looking for sales growing to $300 million. Earnings fell 23% -- not only missing estimates, but again, the opposite of the growth that investors expected. To add to the misery, management cut its outlook for the remainder of the year, reducing revenue guidance by about $50 million, and earnings by $3 million, or around $0.10 per share. 

Chart Industries is involved in industrial cryogenic and gas processing systems for a number of industries, but the company's future success is heavily tied to the growth of natural gas vehicles in coming years. First quarter's earnings are out. Will Chart's big bet on liquefied natural gas leading to big growth?

Let's take a deeper look, because there's more than just the LNG business that investors need to know. 

Biomed bad? Blame it on the (freezing) rain

Milli Vanilli may have been a fraud, but the actual weather impact on Chart's quarter was legitimate. Source: Alan Light.

Much of the shortfall in the quarter was largely the result of what CFO Michael Biehl called "continued weakness in our biomedical segment and weather that affected our U.S.-based operations," on the earnings call. He pointed to the six lost days of operation at Chart's Georgia facilities, due to bad weather, as having an $8 million negative impact on revenue. However, total revenue in biomedical fell $13 million in the quarter, so there's still clearly some weakness, as Biehl stated.

CEO Sam Thomas indicated that it's tied to challenges in both North America and Europe, with what he described as "pressure on reimbursement for respiratory therapy," which is pushing the market to lower-cost therapies. While the market shakeout is taking longer than management expected, Thomas made it clear that they are working to better control costs while still being positioned to benefit when the market recovers. 

LNG in China remains strong
The Chinese government recently announced stricter emission standards, which will increase the cost of diesel trucks. The expected result is more demand for natural gas-powered trucks in China. Chart had previously announced an $80 million capacity expansion in China, and is expecting to break ground in May on this new facility.

Additionally, China has also announced subsidies to offset the cost of building LNG-powered ships. While it will be a couple of years before any ships built under this program hit the water, the upside for Chart to build LNG bunkers to provide fuel for maritime operators in China is significant. 

LNG in North America getting pushed back but showing growth in a key area
Chart had announced a deal last year to build a number of LNG stations for a "major oil company." There's plenty of reason to believe the customer is Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  )  due to that company's partnership with TravelCenters of America to build up to 100 LNG stations at existing T/A truck stops, plus Chart's current deal with Shell to build several LNG refueling stations in the Netherlands. On the earnings call, Chart disclosed that an order from a "major oil company" for liquefaction and storage had been delayed. Recently, word has come out that Shell is delaying a liquefaction project in Canada, so it's not a stretch that these two are connected. 

The key point? Delayed isn't cancelled. Shell is a massive player in natural gas, and it has been displaying a more disciplined approach to capital projects like this recently. 

However, Chart Industries' LNG vehicle tanks business reported 68% sequential growth in orders this quarter, which is a positive indicator that adoption of natural gas, specifically LNG, in heavy trucks is ramping up. With companies like Shell, T/A, and Clean Energy Fuels building out stations so truckers have access to LNG on the road, it's expected that this growth will continue. 

Why those LNG tanks matter

LNG tank on a class 8 truck. Source: Chart Industries.

In a nutshell, the LNG vehicle tanks -- while itself a nice business -- indicate a greater need for the infrastructure components that Chart makes. Companies that sell LNG to truckers today are buying excess LNG production for other industrial uses today, but as demand grows, the existing capacity won't meet the demand. This will lead to more business for Chart's core growth opportunity in cold boxes and liquefaction train components. And that's just for on-the-road trucking. 

The export market is in addition to this. Chart is currently engaged in talks with several companies that are looking to build export terminals; however, these facilities are years in the building, meaning revenue wouldn't show up before late 2015 at the soonest for these projects. 

Final thoughts: The sell-off since October looks overdone
I'm not one to call a bottom, or even try to guess what the market will do in the short term, but it's looking like investors have a good opportunity to invest in a very well-run company with a lot of upside. The stock certainly could go lower this summer, with much of the company's business in 2014 expected to be backloaded. 

Nonetheless, the trend is decidedly positive on the adoption or natural gas for transportation both in the U.S. and China. Despite the recent missteps, Chart is a well-run company with exposure to the entire LNG value chain, and it's priced very nearly half what it was just six months ago.  

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Jason Hall

Born and raised in the Deep South of Georgia, Jason now calls Southern California home. A Fool since 2006, he began contributing to in 2012. Trying to invest better? Like learning about companies with great (or really bad) stories? Jason can usually be found there, cutting through the noise and trying to get to the heart of the story.

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