Alliance Resource Partners offers coal-fired returns

Growing demand and rising dividends make this miner a top pick for income investors.

By TheStockAdvisors Dec 21, 2011 12:57PM
Image: Elevated view of freight cars with coal © Joseph Sohm-Visions of America/Photodisc/Getty ImagesBy Ian Wyatt, Top Stock Insights

Emerging markets are industrializing, increasing expenditure on energy and infrastructure projects, and creating a massive demand for industrial resources.

One of the most vital of these industrial resources is cheap, dirty, plentiful coal. While we're all fans of renewable energy, coal still remains a major part of energy generation, and it will remain so for many years into the future.

In fact, more than half of the energy generated in the U.S., and more than 40% of energy generated worldwide, comes from coal.

There are a number of coal companies out there, but I want to invest in one that is determined to pay its shareholders an ever-increasing dividend as its profits grow. Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP) is that stock.

Alliance has an operational history that is only surpassed by its history of substantial dividend increases. In fact, in 2010, S&P ranked Alliance in the top 0.5% of companies for total return to shareholders over the last 10 years.

Alliance has increased its dividend every year for the past 10 years, and while other companies may have a longer history of consecutive dividend increases, few have increased their dividend to the same extent of Alliance.

Since 2001, Alliance has increased its dividend more than 200%, as it rose from $1.00 in 2001 to more than $3.00 a share in 2010. On an annualized basis, the current annual dividend is a whopping $3.63, and a yield of 5%.

Alliance is a diversified producer and marketer of coal to major utilities and industrial users primarily in the US. But in the globalized market economy, it doesn't really matter who the company is selling too.

The increased international demand will raise the price of coal in all markets, allowing Alliance to make more money even if it only sells its coal domestically. It's all just a matter of supply and demand.

Alliance has 697 million tons of proven and probable reserves and nine mining complexes in the Illinois Basin, Northern Appalachian and Central Appalachian coal-producing regions.

Its 10th complex is currently under production and is expected to start long-wall production in early 2012.

Last year, 2010, was a great one for Alliance, as the company strengthened its long-term domestic coal sales position and also moved more coal into the export market.

The efforts by Alliance helped it reach record highs in its revenues, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, deductibles and amortization) and net income for the year.

Compared to 2009, revenues were up 30.8% percent to $1.6 billion, EBITDA was up 46.7% to $499.5 million and net income rose 67.1% percent to $321 million.

Alliance has maintained this strong growth throughout the nine months ended September 2011 when it announced record revenues and earnings once again.

Record coal sales volumes combined with record average coal sales prices to bring revenues to $1,323 million, an increase of 15% over the same period in 2010. Likewise, quarterly operating cash increased 12% over the previous year to $1,045 million.

Shares are at the cheapest level in some time. Analysts expect the company to generate $7.99 EPS this year and $8.25 next year. That EPS puts shares at 9 and 8 times estimates. The stock should trade around 11.5 times EPS, or about $92.

Additionally, shares pump out a 5% annual dividend on the side. Coal stocks should rebound over the next year, and ARLP investors can collect a hefty dividend until the industry does bounce back. Action: Buy ARLP below $77.

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