The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW) is one of the most identifiable companies in the world. Numerous products developed by the company aimed at the agricultural, energy, chemical, food, and performance materials markets make it into the finished products we use every day -- whether we know it or not. Major chemical and energy companies across the globe jump at the chance to form joint ventures or partnerships with the $63 billion multidisciplinary expert. Should you also be jumping at the opportunity to invest?
The case can certainly be made, especially since Dow Chemical is working furiously to improve operating margins across all of its reporting segments. In fact, management believes the company is on the path to over $10 billion in EBITDA within the next several years, which would represent a respectable increase from the $8.4 billion notched in 2013. As we take a closer look at key growth drivers, here are three reasons Dow Chemical's stock could rise in the coming months or years.
1. Ethylene manufacturing
You have probably heard about the shale oil and gas energy revolution, but do you know why major gas producers are lighting money on fire? Natural gas is coveted for its methane (a one-carbon molecule), but it also contains a sizable amount of ethane (a two-carbon molecule), which is one step away from the valuable building block molecule ethylene. Unfortunately, the United States opened the faucet to its newfound natural gas riches without first developing the infrastructure to handle all of its derivatives. It's estimated that the country creates 300,000 barrels per day of excess ethane.
Ethane rejection, as it's formally called, creates a major opportunity for companies with access to large amounts of capital and engineering know-how. While an energy company may convert ethane from a natural gas field into ethylene and sell it directly to chemical companies, Dow Chemical can convert cheap ethane into the ethylene it needs downstream for its robust value-added chemical products. Essentially, the company can cut out the middle man and supply itself with the feedstock it needs.
The Dow Chemical Company is making steady progress in bringing new ethylene capacity online, especially in the Gulf Coast region. The St. Charles manufacturing facility in Louisiana was restarted at the end of 2012 and delivered a $150 million increase in EBITDA in 2013. A world-class (defined as having output greater than 1 million metric tons) ethylene and propylene facility is on pace to begin producing ethylene in 2017, while propylene units will come online sometime next year. The company knows it has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of it, and it's seizing every moment.
2. Dow AgroSciences
The only segment to post negative EBITDA growth in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2013 was Agricultural Sciences (losing just 3%), although it captured record sales in the face of global headwinds. Don't let that trick you into thinking the unit is weighing on shares, however. Dow AgroSciences is gearing up for regulatory approval for its Enlist Weed Control System, which combines genetic traits to allow soy, cotton, and corn to resist two herbicides: glyphosate (RoundUp) and 2,4-D.
Enlist corn and soybeans are expected to quickly gain market share in 2015 after being approved later this year. Speeding its adoption along is the fact that resistant and hard-to-control weeds have more than doubled since 2009 and are now present in an estimated 70 million acres of farmland. By stacking two herbicide traits, Dow Chemical hopes to slow the emergence of resistant weeds, although companies are already developing plants with up to nine stacked traits. Owning the next big thing in agribusiness is a pretty good reason for the stock to rise.
Every investor in Dow Chemical should know about Sadara, the joint venture formed with Saudi Arabian Oil Company in 2011, which is constructing a massive chemical manufacturing complex that consists of 26 manufacturing plants. The complex will produce more than 3 million metric tons of high-value performance plastics and specialty chemical products each year -- making it one of the world's largest chemical operations. Units are expected to come online in the second half of 2015, while the entire facility will be online in 2016.
It gets better. The manufacturing complex will sell 60% of its production to the fast-growing Asia Pacific region and another 15% to the Middle East and Africa. Despite owning just 35% of the joint venture, Dow Chemical expects Sadara to deliver EBITDA margins of up to 40%, annual equity earnings of roughly $500 million through 2026, and cash flow positive effects by 2020. To win big, you have to build big.
Foolish bottom line
Investors may want to take a closer look at one of the world's largest chemical companies. After all, Dow Chemical's stock could rise for any number of reasons related to its fierce focus on improving operating margins across its business and tapping key market opportunities. Ethylene cracking, the next big breakthrough in agricultural sciences, and one of the world's newest and largest chemical manufacturing complexes are all good reasons to believe in the company's direction.
Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out his personal portfolio, CAPS page, previous writing for The Motley Fool, or his work with SynBioBeta to keep up with developments in the synthetic biology industry.
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