New Life for Matrix Service?

At midday Wednesday, the Nasdaq's largest percentage gainer, with a 23% jump, was Matrix Service (Nasdaq: MTRX  ) . The company specializes in general industrial construction, repair, and maintenance services, and also carries some petroleum and petrochemical credentials. The massive rebuilding that lies ahead in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was probably fueling investor enthusiasm.

But Matrix is a troubled micro cap working its way through a refinancing. While the company is expected to report per-share earnings of $0.19 for the fiscal year ending May 2006, it revealed that revenue for its recently completed fiscal year, at $439.1 million, is down by 27.8% from fiscal 2004.

The construction industry, famous for lumpy revenue flow, hit Matrix hard. Its Power Industry segment completed two large power projects in 2004, tipping the scale at 32% of consolidated revenues. Without subsequent projects of a similar scale, Matrix reported a massive $261.9 million decrease in revenue.

Those looking for better revenue results in the coming fiscal year will be disappointed. The company's guidance is for revenue to fall to between $375 million and $425 million, even with the recently signed $97 million deal to build containment tanks in Cameron Parish, La., for Bechtel as part of a liquefied natural gas project for Cheniere Energy (AMEX: LNG  ) . (Cameron Parish borders Texas, away from Katrina's damage.)

Matrix lost $38.8 million in fiscal 2005, after reporting earnings of $9.5 million the previous year. Two one-time events in the third quarter accounted for the bulk of the earnings swing -- a $26 million charge for goodwill impairment and a reserve addition of $10.4 million for a disputed contract.

The balance sheet isn't pretty, either. Total debt increased from $59.1 million at the end of fiscal 2004 to $73.1 million in the year recently ended. I estimate interest expenses to exceed $6 million. As such, interest coverage will be minimal in 2006 at best.

By the end of trading on Wednesday, the stock had trailed off somewhat from its earlier highs. That should have been expected, though, because of the muddled situation with the company's finances and the relative uncertainty associated with securing contracts (which has resulted in the lumpy revenue stream). Matrix also has yet to announce its office restructuring and its long-term business plan. But if the stock settles down, it could provide an interesting speculative play on the reconstruction that the American petrochemical industry will require.

Investors looking favorably on this stock today certainly expect that Katrina's impact will firm up contract pricing and create years of new construction and maintenance projects. For such a troubled company, the change in fortune is good news, despite its disastrous catalyst.

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Clickhereto see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.

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