Since late 2020, much of the commentary in the market has shifted from questions about when the end of the pandemic might actually come to how quickly the economy will be able to rebound. Increasing vaccinations have made a big difference in reducing infection rates across the United States, which has allowed state and local governments to begin easing restrictions on social gatherings and other activities we haven’t been able to talk since the pandemic started.
One of the sectors that has rallied strongly since November of last year is the Energy sector. Stocks in this sector marked some of the biggest values in the market for most of 2020. An increase in travel, vacations, cruises and other leisure activities generally bodes well not only for industries that provide those services, but also for the Energy sector, as demand for oil should also increase. That means that many of the companies in the Energy sector could still provide attractive investing opportunities for cautious, value-oriented investors.
When it comes to value, the question becomes whether or not a stock that is trading at a major discount has the resources it needs to ride through current economic and business turmoil, and still be standing in a favorable position once those concerns eventually fade. That means recognizing the impact current conditions have had, and may continue to have in the near term, and balancing them against the company’s balance sheet. Does the company possess a healthy combination of cash and liquid assets to provide near-term stability relative to its debt? And is their current debt load manageable enough that the company might be able to prudently take on more debt to further extend its financial stability and flexibility? Those are questions that can help to delineate between the stocks that offer the best long-term opportunities at nice prices versus those that are just plain cheap. For stocks that have followed the sector’s rally since November higher, those same metrics provide a barometer to determine if the stock’s rise in price has outpaced the business’ underlying strength, or whether there is a critical, fundamental basis to keep long-term investors buying in.
HollyFrontier Corporation (HFC) is a case in point. The company’s earnings reports throughout the year have shown significant declines in their operating margins, which isn’t surprising given the collapse in crude prices that began at the beginning of the year resulting from a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and then exacerbated by the vaporization of demand that came from global shutdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19. The stock cratered in the meantime, plunging from a November 2019 high at around $59 to a March 2020 low below $19 per share. The stock rebounded from that point, pushing to a high in June around $38 before dropping back to a new low at around $16 amid concern about oil demand in November. From that point, the stock surged again to a peak at around $42 in March of this year along with rising oil prices, but fell back again to around $33 in late April. More recently, the shutdown of a major pipeline running along the Eastern seaboard attributed to a ransomeware attack has kept pressure on supply, which is keeping prices elevated and giving HFC momentum to pivot higher off of that $33 support. Do the company’s fundamentals provide an argument for the stock as a useful value-based investment? Let’s find out.
Fundamental and Value Profile
HollyFrontier Corporation is an independent petroleum refiner. The Company produces various light products, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, specialty lubricant products, and specialty and modified asphalt. It segments include Refining and Holly Energy Partners, L.P. (HEP). The Refining segment includes the operations of the Company’s El Dorado, Kansas (the El Dorado Refinery); refinery facilities located in Tulsa, Oklahoma (collectively, the Tulsa Refineries); a refinery in Artesia, New Mexico that is operated in conjunction with crude oil distillation and vacuum distillation and other facilities situated 65 miles away in Lovington, New Mexico (collectively, the Navajo Refinery); refinery located in Cheyenne, Wyoming (the Cheyenne Refinery); a refinery in Woods Cross, Utah (the Woods Cross Refinery), and HollyFrontier Asphalt Company (HFC Asphalt). The HEP segment involves all of the operations of HEP. HEP is a limited partnership, which owns and operates logistic assets. HFC has a current market cap of about $5.9 billion.
Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings decreased by -200%, while revenues improved 3.05%. in the last quarter, earnings grew by 28.4% while sales improved almost 21%. The company’s margin profile turned negative this year but appears to be turning a useful corner; over the last twelve months, Net Income was-1.32% of Revenues but improved to 4.23% in the last quarter.
Free Cash Flow: HFC’s free cash flow has declined over the last twelve months, dropping into negative territory in the last quarter. This is a reflection of the practical challenges the company has faced throughout the pandemic and with which it clearly continues to grapple.
Debt to Equity: HFC’s debt to equity is .54, a generally conservative number. The company’s balance sheet indicates liquidity and debt management remains healthy despite the current negative Net Income and Free Cash Flow pattern, with almost $1.2 million in cash and liquid assets in the last quarter versus about $3.1 billion of long-term debt. It’s worth noting that at the beginning of 2019, HFC reported just $496 million in cash, and $909 at the beginning of 2020, which strengthen the current number, but also represents a decline from $1.5 billion in September of 2020.
Dividend: HFC’s annual divided is $1.40 per share until the most recent earnings report – management has suspended the dividend for the next year in an effort to preserve cash.
Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but I like to worth with a combination of Price/Book and Price/Cash Flow analysis. Together, these measurements provide a long-term target at almost $27 per share.
Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.
Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The chart above covers the last year of price activity. The red line traces the stock’s upward trend from its November 2020 low at around $17 to its March peak at about $42.50. It also provides the baseline for the Fibonacci retracement lines shown on the right side of the chart. From that peak, the stock dropped back to find support near the 38.2% retracement line at around $32.50 per share. The stock appears to be setting a new consolidation range between support at $32.50 and $36.50 per share. A push above $36.50 should see the stock test the March high at around $42, while a drop below $32.50 could see about $3 of additional downside to the 50% retracement line at $29.50 to find next support.
Near-term Keys: HFC doesn’t offer any kind of practical value proposition, which means the best probabilities with HFC right lie in working with short-term trading strategies. A push above $36.50 could provide a good signal to buy the stock or work with call options with an eye on $42 as a bullish profit target, while a drop below $32.50 would act as a strong signal to think about shorting the stock or to buy put options, with $29.50 providing a practical bearish profit target.