Chart Industries (GTLS 1.16%), a supplier of cryogenic gas processing and storage equipment for the biomedical and energy industries, has seen its stock get cut by two-thirds over the past year. While a lot of the decline, frankly, is the result of an overly exuberant 2013 stock market that saw Chart shares rise 91% over the first nine months of the year before the precipitous decline since, the promise of expanding demand for the company's technology to process and store natural gas has yet to pan out.
However, as compared to other "natural gas revolution" companies like Westport Innovations and Clean Energy Fuels, Chart Industries is solidly profitable and has exposure to multiple industries. Let's take a look at the earnings release, because even with the bad news, there is some good stuff happening.
BioMedical business continues to struggle
This has been a problem for Chart for more than one year, and management says that this is likely to continue being a weak spot. The primary driver has been reduced Medicare reimbursements for oxygen therapy in the U.S., and it is expected that this will remain the norm for the foreseeable future. The company did see gross margins tick up slightly, even as sales declined 21% over the quarter, an increased pace of decline from the first half of the year. Year to date, BioMedical sales are down 17%.
Frankly, the only thing management can do is work to improve its cost structure in this segment. The demand is almost completely out of its control.
Distribution and Storage suffering from Chinese uncertainty
The D&S business had been a strong performer in 2013, and the first couple of quarters this year showed slowing growth, but there was still some growth. However, sales declined to $140 million this quarter -- falling $12 million from last year's period. D&S was supposed to be one of the bright spots for Chart Industries, driven by demand for natural gas all over the world for transportation, energy supply, and industrial applications like manufacturing.
Chart has recently invested heavily in its manufacturing in China, doubling its output capacity over the past year. However, the Chinese market has gone soft, and strong demand in 2013 has turned into uncertainty. Management is pointing to delays both at the regulatory level and from customers.
There is some good news, though: Chart says that demand in North America and Europe has been strong, driven by both LNG storage and industrial demand for petrochemicals.
Energy and Chemicals accelerating
The 23% sales growth in E&C over the quarter is an acceleration of the 16% sales growth for the full year. This is being driven by higher demand for LNG and petrochemical applications, largely in North America. There should be a strong tailwind for Chart in this area, as the chemical industry is expected to invest a whopping $100 billion in the U.S. between 2010 and 2023, and almost entirely based on the low cost of natural gas in North America.
The bulk of this investment will be in new facilities that will largely depend on natural gas or natural gas-derived feedstocks like ethylene. Just today, Chart announced it had received an order for equipment that will be used in an ethylene cracker, and the demand for these kinds of systems is very likely to keep growing.
Big picture: Headwinds, but the long term still looks good
It's never a positive when a company that you invested in for growth is reporting declining revenues and earnings. However, Chart is a solidly profitable company, and is in solid financial shape to weather these headwinds. Eventually, the BioMedical business will stabilize, and the current softness in China is likely to improve as well. The promise of natural gas will inevitably lead to growth, and Chart is one of the best at what it does. This is already happening in North America and Europe.
Furthermore, it's important to understand that Chart Industries isn't just tied to one story or application or industry. Natural gas is certainly the backbone, but the demand will be driven by its ability to serve a variety of uses, such as for vehicle fuel and power generation, and literally hundreds of uses for the chemical industry, including making things like fertilizer, tires, and even clothing items like polyester and rayon.
At the end of the day, Chart isn't performing badly as much as it's the victim of really tough macroeconomic headwinds, and this isn't something that management can control. However, there are things that can be addressed, and management isn't standing still. The company just entered into a new debt agreement that will reduce its interest expense as well as give it up to $150 million in increased financing capacity. Eventually, the market will recover, and when it does, Chart will be ready.