Going Green And Saving Green

I spent most of Wednesday between the computer repair shop, the Doubletree hotel where an investor day was being held by one of our recommended companies, and Bloomberg's offices and mine, all a short walking distance from each other. It was bitter cold. But given the weather in Buffalo, I figure I got off lightly. However, I refused an invitation to bundle up again so we could be treated to dinner by our son, who is visiting. I preferred to simply cook.

A week from today is the heaviest traffic day of the year, when US families gather together to feast on turkey and give thanks. What makes it worse for us is that we will head north to New England, just as a gazillion college students hit the road to head home. So we are taking a train.

In both cases we are saving greenbacks plus going green by not using an auto, probably contrary to the trend—which is both to cite the ghastly cold weather as a sign that global warming is a myth, and to burn lots of gasoline as it has become much cheaper.

Today we consider a way to play cheap fuel prices which directly offsets one of our oil plays. It is a new buy-and-hold pick. I am proceeding with it despite objections from our Latin expert who is being superstitious.

CPA, Our New Pick

• Our new pick is a discount airline, defined as a carrier stock whose share is at a discount at barely over 10x earnings, not as one with cheap tickets. COPA Hldgs (NYSE:CPA) is hq'd in Panama and reports in the currency of that country, the US dollar. It still is waiting on the tarmac despite today handily beating the consensus analyst forecast, but failing to keep up with Q3 2013 profit and sales levels, both down by 14%. Its adjusted net earnings were $99.8 mn or $2.25/sh vs the consensus forecast of $66 mn. The big reason is a drop in sales because CPA is unable to collect $500 mn owed by Venezuela, a former destination.

Frida Ghitis worries about airline stocks running the risk of stock crashes after plane crashes, which happened with a Brazilian air stock many years ago. Brazilian crashes occur because of unsafe, badly located safe airports. CPA is an old hand at flying. It has excellent on-time performance and high passenger satisfaction rates. It currently runs 96 Boeing 737-800 planes to mainly American destinations: North, South, and Central, plus a couple of dozen feeder single aisle planes mostly made by Embraer (ERJ)  serving the internal market in Colombia. Its other major destinations are Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Brazilian planes, si, Brazilian airports, non.

Analysts are mixed on CPA's outlook. IBES rates it a low-level buy (7 on 10) but Thomson-Reuters' analyst survey is closer to take-off, with half the experts rating CPA buy or strong buy, and the other half rating it sell or neutral.

Our logic for buying is that CPA can gain altitude from lower aviation fuel prices. Its current revenue per seat is down 10% from last year despite (or maybe because of) higher passenger numbers. The cost per seat mile rose 4.1% y/o/y to 10.4 cents, but excluding fuel it actually fell by 5.7% to 6.4 cents. The price of aviation fuel, however, is now dropping along with that of the proverbial barrel of oil. Lower fares should cut costs and also increase bookings.

Its traffic levels so far this year have flown higher than its increased capacity from 3 new planes brought into service. Its hub is Panama City.

Coupled with lower costs, CPA also plans a $250 mn share buyback, announced Wednesday.

CPA also plans to decouple its frequent flyer program from United Airlines by next summer and launch its own. This is one imponderable risk. The other is whether the oil price bust will continue. And there is a third.

S&P, which rates CPA a buy because of its positive earnings surprise, issued a warning on governance, why this stock is speculative despite its 3.3% current yield: “Risks include the ownership of a controlling voting stake by CIASA, which could act contrary to the best interests of the Class A stockholders. Class A stockholders have almost no voting rights in Copa, and as minority shareholders in Panama, they have fewer legal rights than in the U.S.” Offsetting that negative, about a third of COP shares are held by US mutual funds and other institutional investors.

• Across the Darien Gap, in Colombia, a different view on the outlook for oil. The lawyer of the indicted ex-CEO of PetroTiger argues that the state-controlled Colombian oil company Ecopetrol (EC) isn't an arm of government. Even if Joseph Sigelman, the ex-exec, did pay off an EC employee to win contracts, as prosecutors allege, it wouldn't be a crime under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act "because they were not made to a 'foreign official,'" Mr. Sigelman's counsel stated. "Thus, the FCPA charges must be dismissed." Although Colombia's government owns over 80% of EC, it was transformed into a commercial enterprise in 2003, stripped of subsidies and special access to Colombia's oil fields, Mr. Sigelman's attorney wrote in a letter to the court last week. "Nowhere in the indictment...does the United States identify any Colombian government function performed by Ecopetrol in 2010." Mr. Sigelman's counsel failed to add that EC was listed on the NYSE as well in 2003.

The Sushi Index

Forget The Economist's renowned Big Mac Index. Try our sushi index.  Jeanine Stewart writes from Taiwan in undercurrentnews.com (forwarded by Chris Loew, our Japan reporter), about Marine Harvest Group. MHG is adding processing capacity in Chile with a $26 mn investment. But the big news is that next year MHG will add another processing line to its secondary processing plant in Osaka, Japan, to boost output by about 10% at first and up to 30% later and bring on new products like lox for both the Japanese and Chinese markets.

Stewart quotes Charlie Wu, MHG managing director for Asia-Pacific region. The Osaka plant is mainly for Japanese eaters. Fishmongers and restaurants used to cut salmon into sushi slices and portions but now fish cutters are retiring and young Japanese don't want the job. (They don't like working in McDonalds either.) So the Osaka plant will do the cutting in advance, making sushi slices, portions, and salmon tartar mostly for restaurants.

The new plant will supplement an existing one in Vietnam and a processing plant in Narita, but opened only in May aimed at consumers. MHG now aims to boost the value added of its salmon by processing the fish further. Japan’s seafood industry meanwhile is increasing exports thanks to a devalued yen.

According to Bloomberg, cheaper seafood for exports is helping companies like Koyo Trading Ltd., a Tokyo-based exporter of more than 200 food products including 60 varieties of fish where overseas revenue hit a record the 2013-4 FY to Mar.

Even more fishy exports are now in the hold because the Japanese FY ended with the yen at 110 to the US$. Now it is over 117.05, the weakest since Oct. 2007.

Testing is proceeding of new consumer products from its fisheries in Taipei, at an MHG-owned restaurant called "Supreme Salmon" aimed at Chinese. Supreme sells Italian and French salmon dishes, sushi, salmon burgers, and even smoked salmon (without bagels and cream cheese, however).

The goal is to get the product into consumers’ mouths. “We want to get the business model going so that we can eventually get a franchise out,” Wu said, adding that there are no firm plans for such an expansion yet but said that testing the market to explore the possibility is vital. “Companies talk about big plans, but what they don’t understand is the details and what the consumer wants,” Wu said. “This is where the leading salmon producer needs to be different.”

Geo-physical, Geo-political

• The Tamar Israeli offshore oilfield partners are set to invest up to $2 bn to expand production capacity of the offshore natural gas field, according to a report today to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) by, among others, Delek Group (DGRLY). Because of changed boundaries and the sale of Karish and Tanin fields, the Israeli Antitrust Authority director general will grant DGRLY and Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL) of Texas, the main owners of the Tamar and Leviathan fields, exemption from the cartel law, allowing Leviathan development to proceed. However the head of NBL said delays over Leviathan are about 2 years to 2017 and are costing the Jewish state lost revenues from taxes of $3 bn a year.

New investment is need to meet the letter of intent on offtake signed 6 mos ago with Spain's Union Fenosa and its Italian partner Edison for 4.5 bn cubic meters of gas/yr over 15 years. But this leaves a gap as UF's liquefaction capacity is 7 BCM/yr. The Tamar partners and UF-Edison want to front load supplies rather than increasing the 15 year total.

NBL may expand the production processing network above 20.4 BCM/yr, of which 16 BCM will be for the Israeli domestic market with the rest going to the partners' plant in Damietta, Egypt. Some of the extra gas may later head for BG Group (BRGYY)'s different mothballed Nile Delta liquefaction plant at Idku. The missing link is making the reversed trans-Sinai pipeline safe from Bedouin raiders.

More political risks. Leviathan sales to Cyprus under a binding accord with DEFA, a Cypriot govt body, has again been given a new later startup date, now Nov. 30. Cyprus reserves in the Aphrodite field were upped 12% last week but the volumes are not enough for a liquefaction plant unless gas from Leviathan is also used.

• France's Technip SA, TKPPY, France's largest oil-and gas services company, has bid to buy CGG (NYSE:CGG; Paris:GEPH.PA), a seismic survey firm, for euros 1.47 bn. Lower oil prices are leading to consolidation in the sector. Anton Oilservices may become a target either for Technip, which was turned down, or for its existing 20% shareholder, Schlumberger, which is too big and global to play in the French market. ATONY is from Hong Kong and SLB from the Dutch Antilles. We used to own Technip after it was spun off by Total, in the distant past.

Nokia's (NOK) latest HERE mapping software can help drivers avoid traffic jams by linking up to other vehicle map devices in the cloud. I know that whatever I do today, in a week going to New England for turkey day I will hit congestion, miracle technology or not.

Pharma Firming

The Sunday Telegraph told UK holders of Reckitt Benckiser to sell any shares of Indivior they get from the planned Dec. 23 demerger of the drug arm of the household and consumer goods firm. This will hit the pharma spinoff shares downward perhaps even before US RBGLY owners can trade them.

Novartis (NVS) is investing in San Diego's BioNano Genomics' $53 mn C round to finance decode the so-called inaccessible genome via its Irys platform. This detects structural variations in a patient's genetic structure like including DNA insertions, deletions and repeats. Existing mapping tools often miss them and they are the key to figuring out the genomic differences between people to offer personalized medicine.

Reuters reported that NVS is beating the pharma pack by signing up with Google to develop "smart" contact lenses that can track blood sugar levels in diabetes patients. It is working with Proteus Digital Health on sensors that track medication doses, to make sure patients are taking their pills.

CEO Jim Jiminez is seeking other tech to win over bodies like the FDA who need to know not only that drugs work in work in clinical trials, also in the real world.

"We've done more than most but certainly not enough," Jimenez told the news service, adding, "It may be niche today but in the future I think it is going to be front and center as to how diseases are managed."

• My favorite US biomed diagnostics share, Illumina, ILMN, which is a 10-bagger, is lending its sequencing systems to US AID to help track the Ebola virus.

Goldman Sachs today upped its rating of European pharmaceutical companies to buy, starting with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

• Thanks to readers TC and RM who commented on the Benitec (BTEBY) article yesterday, sent twice because some readers did not get it the first time. The former called it a good job on a stock trading below its real value; the latter said “websites are full of flakes with their own agendas. So what else is new?”

Food for Food

• This month Agrium (AGU) CFO Steven Douglas bought 9,000 shares at C$113.25 and change. YTD, 3 AGU insiders spent C$2 mn buying stock in the public market. No insiders sold stock in 2014. A major flood at a key Uralkali plant may cause a potash market shortfall. The news pushed up the potash companies which held their gains, and AGU which did not. A part of Scotiabank's stock advisors, Private Assets Group, say to sell AGU and buy POT (Potash of Saskatchewan). Not if AGU execs are buying.

Disclosure: None

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