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Greenberg: Clean Harbors Is Not Cleaning Up

"We're seeing reinvestments in new chemical plants," he said. "Jobs are coming back and that will create more hazardous waste."

When Will It All Come Together?

"I don't think all cylinders are always operated at any business at the same time, he said. "And we don't need that to happen here for that to improve our margins."

Several other points addressed by McKim:

On the short-lived CFO. "He wasn't a good fit for the business."

On the Credit Suisse analyst's comments about the company's low-credibility in forecasting. "One of 14 analysts is not a trend. We believe there are a lot of folks out there who follow our company and believe in us." He adds that negative commentary by Mazari, the analyst, "invigorates me."

On his own recent sale of 143,000 shares. He said it was for estate planning and stressed he remains the company's second-largest holder.

In the end, McKim said he believes the company's guidance for next year, a reacceleration of sales sand EBITDA "is the message and is what we believe is proof that the strategy is working."

But can you take it to the bank?

Reality Check:

It's hard not to like McKim. He concedes what doesn't go right, and from someone who has tracked his company for years: "He's an optimistic guy, which is one of his strengths."

But, still, the company has missed forecast after forecast since acquiring Safety-Kleen, paying top dollar at the peak of a cycle for an industry that will see rising capacity.

That's after increasing the synergies from the deal, which in essence means that the extent of misses have been understated in estimates.

And that's after buying into the oilfield-services business just as it was rolling over.

Clean Harbors is a business whose growth traditionally tracked GDP, and whose stock rode the wave of oil spills. And many analysts who follow it are holdovers from the legacy waste days, which means they know the waste business, but not necessarily the nuances of oilfields -- which, as Mazari says, has made the company considerably more cyclical. It's also made it more volatile and commoditized. Oh, and more competitive.

Yet it still trades more like its former self, with a P/E of around 20 vs. the refiners, which hover closer to 6x to 8x earnings.

The question: How long can that spread last?

The best investors can hope for is that, in the long term, Clean Harbors' new strategy works as billed. Between here and there, any more nasty surprises with guidance and the answer to the question is likely to be "not long," because Mazari isn't likely to be the only analyst to lose patience.
Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security.

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