Why Mechel OAO Shares Rose More Than 22% in January

It's been a wild ride for investors in this Russian mining giant. It isn't over, yet.

Reuben Gregg Brewer
Reuben Gregg Brewer
Feb 8, 2016 at 1:55PM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

What? Mechel OAO (NYSE:MTL) shares soared at the end of the month, leaving the stock up an impressive 22% for all of January. But the stock, which trades in the low-single-digit dollar range, is still down some 20% during the past year and nearly 97% during the past five years.

So what? Mechel is in the middle of debt negotiations that will basically determine if its debt load remains a growing concern. That helps explain why the stock is down so far during the last five years. Not only has the commodity downturn taken a huge toll on the top and bottom lines like it has on competitors  BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO), but the company's heavy debt load quickly became too much of a burden when the commodity markets turned. This is why most investors should probably focus on companies like BHP and Rio that have more stable finances. Although these giants, too, are feeling the strain of falling prices. For these players, the biggest risk appear to be dividend cuts and credit downgrades, not solvency.

That's the past, however, and now the question for Mechel is the future. On that score, there hasn't been much news to suggest a big change for the positive. However, on Jan. 28, the company created "a Special Committee of the Board as part of efforts aimed at restructuring Mechel OAO's debt portfolio." The stock shot higher the next day. Is this good or bad news? It's really too soon to tell, even though the market has clearly decided it's news that's worthy of a 20% share-price bump.

Now what? Mechel is best avoided by all but the most aggressive investors. An investment here is little more than a bet that the Russian company can survive its debt woes. If things work out, the upside could be huge. But the downside is just as great if the company can't come to terms with all of its lenders. For most investors, that's just not worth the price of admission.