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Clean Harbors(CLH - Get Report) is an under-the-radar hedge for so-called black-swan events. The increasing frequency of unexpected market-moving phenomenon is a topic of debate in the financial community. Clean Harbors is a beneficiary of unforeseen natural disasters. Its business spiked due to Hurricane Katrina, the
BP(BP) spill and, now, investors expect contracts for the Japan clean-up.
Clean Harbors, founded in 1980 by Chief Executive Officer Alan McKim, has an emergency-services division with expertise in cleaning up chemical spills and infectious contaminants. It is a key growth division for the Norwell, Massachusetts-based company.
The division consults with governments, providing planning, logistics and project-management services. McKim disclosed to
CNBC that his firm has already been contacted by Japanese officials.
Although Clean Harbors is technically a small-cap company, its participation in the aforementioned headline clean-up efforts has elevated it to the status of disaster-logistics go-to. Clean Harbors has grown its sales, net income and earnings per share 22%, 43% and 31% annually, on average, since 2008 and its stock delivered annualized gains of 13% over that span. Although Japan is the latest catalyst for the equity, global warming, and its resulting environmental volatility, could continue to provide Clean Harbors with lucrative global expansion opportunities.
Analysts have a positive, though not ebullient, view of the stock, with eight ranking it "buy" and six rating it "hold." None rank the shares "sell." The stock has a median target of $100.54, suggesting a 12-month rise of 7%.
RBC Capital ranks it a "top pick" and forecasts an advance of 14% to $107. In contrast,
Goldman Sachs ranks it "neutral", expecting a fall to $85.
Uncertainty plagues the stock as the scope of Japan's clean-up efforts are undisclosed as is Clean Harbors' depth of involvement. Goldman's "neutral" ranking is justifiable based on valuation. The stock costs 23-times forward earnings and 3.2-times book value.
Those multiples signify premiums to industry and peer averages. Still, Clean Harbors' recent business performance is praiseworthy. Its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings surged 71% to 88 cents, exceeding consensus by 11%. Sales grew 20% to $417 million, outperforming consensus by 6.7%. Profit margins improved, as well. The gross margin stretched from 27% to 30% and the operating margin widened from 8.2% past 10%, amplifying the bottom-line.
Unlike CB&I, Clean Harbors is comparatively uncorrelated to the market, with a beta value of 0.4. And it often gains on events, which negatively impact other equities. It has risen 2.5% in March as the S&P 500 fell 3.5%. Clean Harbors' quarterly return on equity improved to 16% from 5.7% in the year-earlier quarter, exceeding the industry average of 13% and the S&P 500 average of 13%. Its return on assets stretched from 2.6% to 8.1%, demonstrating improved efficiency. At quarter's end, Clean Harbors held $305 million of cash, for an ample quick ratio of 2.2, and $279 million of debt, for a reasonable debt-to-equity ratio of 0.4.