Energy Business

Is Pacific Ethanol Finally Safe?

After the markets closed on Wednesday, Pacific Ethanol Inc. (NASDAQ: PEIX) reported fiscal fourth-quarter financial results. The ethanol fuel maker had $0.41 in earnings per share (EPS) on revenues of $256.15 million, compared to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates of $0.15 in EPS and $246.37 million in revenues. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $0.79 and revenues of $215.29 million.

The company also expects to complete its acquisition of Aventine this year, after which Pacific Ethanol will become the country’s fifth largest ethanol producer and marketer.

In the fourth quarter, ethanol production gallons sold totaled 50.4 million, up from 40.5 million from the previous fourth quarter. Third-party gallons sold totaled 84.2 million, up 26.6% from 66.5 million a year ago. The bad news is that the sales price fell from $2.36 to $2.15 a gallon. The average price per gallon of ethanol for the year came to $2.48, down from last year’s average price of $2.59.

On the quarter, net sales were up 19%, which was due to an increase in total gallons sold, only slightly offset by a lower average selling price. Compared to the same period in the previous year, gross profit slipped from $21.6 million to its current level $18.4 million. At the same time, operating income fell to $13.6 million from $17.2 million.

In the earnings release the company said:

Our record financial and operating results in 2014 are a culmination of numerous efficiency and debt reduction initiatives we implemented over the past several years combined with strong market fundamentals. With our solid balance sheet and cash flow, we are both reinvesting in our production assets and pursuing a merger with Aventine that will redefine Pacific Ethanol’s competitive position in the ethanol industry, making us the fifth largest ethanol producer and marketer in the country. In 2015, we are focused on driving sustained profitable growth through successfully closing the Aventine merger, integrating our combined companies, further improving plant efficiencies, diversifying feedstock, introducing new revenue streams and pursuing advanced biofuels production.

Shares of Pacific Ethanol were up 23.4% at $11.51 Thursday afternoon. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $18.88 and a 52-week trading range of $7.51 to $23.97.

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