Think rising energy prices benefit every energy-related company under the sun? Think again. While the likes of ExxonMobil
Consider, for example, the case of Piedmont Natural Gas
The firm reported third-quarter earnings Friday, checking in with a "seasonal" loss of $4.7 million, or $0.06 per share. That showing actually represents solid improvement over the year-ago period, when the firm handed shareholders a loss of $8.2 million, or $0.11 per share. The big difference? Colder weather in May, a dynamic that increased demand for the natural gas the company distributes to its Southeastern customer base.
That narrower loss, however, doesn't owe to the rising price of natural gas, which hits distributors like Piedmont in the same way that it hits consumers -- hard. Worse yet, price hikes can depress demand for natural gas
In technical parlance, that's what we financial types like to call a "double whammy," and it's a phenomenon that helps to explain why -- despite the steadily (and precipitously) rising price of natural gas -- Piedmont's showing for the nine months that ended with July 2005 were actually a bit worse than those same nine months in 2004.
To be fair, those prior-year figures were significantly boosted by a one-time gain related to a joint venture, and it's certainly worth noting that Piedmont's interest in regional players such as SouthStar Energy, Pine Needle LNG, and Cardinal Pipeline have bolstered its bottom line.
What's more, the company is a dividend fan's dream, one with a decades-long track record of making -- and growing -- income payouts to its shareholders. And beyond that, Piedmont waxed optimistic in its recent announcement, reaffirming its earlier 2005 guidance and indicating that it expects to deliver earnings per share of $1.23 to $1.30 on the year -- provided that its region experiences "normal" weather.
The Foolish bottom line
Despite its sensitivity to the weather and to fluctuations in the price of natural gas, I think there's a solid investment case to be made for Piedmont on the basis of company fundamentals. The management team here has executed its straightforward business plan with skill and aplomb for many years now, and shareholders are all the richer for it.
Valuations, however, are another story. The stock's price-to-earnings ratio for the trailing 12 months is significantly higher than the broader market's, its industry peers', and its own five-year historical average. The company looks a bit rich on a price-to-cash flow basis, too. With those multiples in mind, Foolish investors -- particularly those of the Ben Graham persuasion -- may want to wait for a discount before picking up Piedmont.
Warm up to further Foolishness:
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on The Motley Fool'sChampion Funds newsletter service and doesn't own any of the securities mentioned above. You can check out the Fool's disclosure policy by clicking right here.