(By Mani) Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc.
) is scaling back its production and sales volumes at its Toney Fork number 2 surface mine. This comes as no surprise given the weakness in thermal coal in the U.S., and around the globe. However, the company offers investors one of the greatest earnings leverage and upcoming catalysts should boost the share price further.
Cliffs Natural Resources is a major global iron ore producer and a significant producer of high- and low-volatile metallurgical coal. Cliffs operates iron ore and coal mines in North America and two iron ore mining complexes in Western Australia.
The company also has a 45 percent economic interest in a coking and thermal coal mine in Queensland, Australia. In addition, Cliffs has a major chromite project, in the pre-feasibility stage of development, located in Ontario, Canada.
Due to a mild winter and low natural gas prices, thermal coal demand for power generation has declined sharply. As a result, Cliffs has lowered its thermal coal production and sales forecast for 2012 to 800,000 short tons from 1.1 million short tons previously.
In addition, Cliff's indicated it is now expecting 2012 met coal sales of 6.0 million short tons versus previous guidance of 6.1 million short tons, while 2012 met coal production guidance is unchanged at 5.5 million short tons. Scaling production back would also help them to eliminate excess inventory.
Cliffs Natural is far better than its peers such as Patriot Coal Corp. (NYSE:PCX) and Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (NYSE:ANR), who were worse affected by weaker prices that in turn hurting their bottom line.
Analysts expect Cliffs to earn $8.37 a share for 2012 and $10.39 a share for 2013, while Patriot Coal is expected to report a loss of $2.26 a share for 2012 and $2.12 a share for 2013. Meanwhile, Alpha Natural Resources is also estimated to lose $1.04 a share this year and 73 cents a share next year, according to analyst polled by Thomson Reuters.
In addition, Cliffs offers investors the highest earnings leverage and second highest net asset value (NAV) leverage to changes in iron ore prices amongst the global producers. In addition, Cliffs has one of the highest growth profiles amongst the global iron ore producers.
"Cliffs has increasing exposure to the seaborne iron ore market, which should drive higher realized prices," RBC Capital Markets analyst Fraser Phillips wrote in a note to clients.
Shares of the company could post further gains if Cliffs manages to execute on its Bloom Lake and Koolyanobbing expansion projects, as well as its success in moving the majority of U.S. sales contracts to seaborne-based pricing over the next five years and capturing a portion of the location benefit in the U.S. market.
In addition, the company has a strong financial position to support its growth strategy and the shares appear relatively inexpensive versus our universe of global iron ore producers.
As of March 31, 2012, Cliffs had $122 million of cash and cash equivalents and $3.6 billion in long-term debt. For the first quarter, Cliffs used $129 million in cash, compared to generating $107 million in cash from operations in the year-ago quarter. Historically, the company has generated the majority of its operating cash flow during the second half of the calendar year.
Phillips sees the company earning $1.12 billion on revenue of $7.21 billion for 2012. If the company makes the estimated $1 billion plus profit, then its current market cap of around $7 billion is considered cheap.
Cliff's shares are expected to grow 47 percent to $75 in the next 12 months, and at that levels, the company's market cap would be around $10.5 billion. Shares would be still cheap at a P/E of 10.5 considering its growth prospects and solid dividend yield of more than 5 percent.
The majority on Wall Street has a positive opinion on Cliff Natural Resources as 14 of the 22 analysts covering the company recommend investors to "buy" the stock, while eight analysts have a "hold" rating. There are no "sell" ratings on the stock. The mean price target stands at $83.94.