Geothermal heat pumps (GHP), also know as Geoexchange, or ground-source heat pumps have been recognized by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy as the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to heat and cool a building available. The downside of GHPs has always been the large up-front cost associated with the cost of the ground loop.
With Obama promising a massive energy efficiency overhaul of federal buildings, the up-front cost is unlikely to be important so long as the expected returns on the investment are sufficient to pay for the upgrade. Since geothermal heat pumps on medium and large buildings typically have internal rates of return in excess of 28%, this should not be a problem. Many federal buildings also have significant open space or parking lots near them which can be used t install ground loops. In addition, a new federal tax credit for geothermal systems was passed in 2008 (10% for commercial installations, $2000 for residential), may provide additional stimulus to the rapidly growing market in the private sector.
Hence, now seems an opportune time to consider investment in companies selling GHPs. I know of two such publicly traded companies in North America (there are also a large number of private players, especially installers.)
Waterfurnace manufactures heat pumps for both residential and commercial buildings, as well as heat pump pool heaters. According to their third quarter financial statements, the company is in good shape from a liquidity perspective, so much so that they eliminated an unused line of credit in the quarter, and paid off the balance of outstanding bonds they had used to build their facilities.
The company has a strong Current Ratio of about 2.5. In fact, current assets exceed total liabilities. Their cash flow from operations is growing and more than sufficient to continue funding current levels of investment. I’ve previously mentioned Waterfurnace in my articles about Wind and Heat Pumps and how to invest in the Pickens Plan. As I also pointed out recently, Waterfurnace pays a dividend of over 3%.
A reader recently left me a comment pointing me to LSB as a GHP play. Unlike Waterfurnace, the company is not a pure-play on heat pumps. They also sell chemical products for a broad range of industries including mining and agriculture. Their climate control division, which includes heat pumps and air handling systems, accounts for about 41% of sales.
Like Waterfurnace, LSB has a strong balance sheet and has been repurchasing convertible notes with available cash from operations. They also have an excellent current ratio of over 2.5 and current assets exceed total liabilities. A review of their most recent quarterly statement shows that working capital growth has been a drag on cash from operations, while income has been reduced by losses on natural gas hedging contracts and an unplanned stoppage at one of their facilities. Despite these hiccups, I see little reason to doubt that they will continue to be able to fund their business growth and investment from cash flow.
Both of these companies boast strong balance sheets and inexpensive valuations. In today’s volatile markets, that is no reason to expect that the stock price cannot fall further, but that would be a (better) buying opportunity for companies I’m comfortable owning for the long haul. And which are likely to receive short term boost from the stimulus package.
DISCLOSURE: Tom Konrad has long positions in WFIFF and LXU.
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