When we last checked in with Sasol
For the first half of fiscal 2010, earnings per share plummeted 52%. Operating profit dove a similar 51%, pummeled by lower crude oil prices and a double-digit swing in currency rates. Because Sasol's finished products are largely priced in dollars, a stronger rand/U.S.-dollar relationship puts the kibosh on margins. Going forward, management sees currency as "the single biggest external factor exerting pressure on our profitability."
Moreover, while oil hedges significantly boosted profitability in the year-ago period, Sasol decided not to enter into any such contracts this time around.
In more upbeat news, Sasol's chemical business turned in a net operating profit, with all but one division (Sasol Polymers) posting results in the black. That compares favorably to full-year fiscal 2009, when the chemicals segment saw a net loss.
However, management did express concern about the polymer division, which was hit by lower selling prices and negative currency effects. Notably, U.S. independent refiner Sunoco
Furthermore, Sasol observed that chemical prices are still 25%-35% off their 2008 peak, adding, "It's not clear what proportion of the good news we are seeing is to do with restocking and what is to do with genuine recovery in demand." And that, my fellow Fools, is the key question.
Significantly, both DuPont
Sasol, however, is prepared to bide its time. Management spoke frequently about capital discipline and a long-term focus. In addition, it's been able to reduce costs and plan for the future without permanently shuttering facilities. For a study in contrast, check out Valero
Investors won't get paid to wait in the quite same way that they would with, say, BP's
Shares currently change hands at a fiscal-2011 P/E of 8.5, roughly in the middle of recent averages. This could be a good place to begin building a position, provided you've got a long-term outlook.