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Greenberg: Wall Street Defends Stericycle

By: Herb Greenberg | 01/29/14 - 11:58 AM EST

Stocks in this article: SRCL

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- No surprise department: In the wake of yesterday's piece here wondering whether the Feds have launched a criminal investigation of Stericycle (SRCL), analysts were out in lockstep defending the company.

My story revolved around a belching incinerator in Utah, which handles all medical waste from the West Coast.

Here is a smattering of comments:

  • CSFB: "Materiality Is Minimal. We estimate that less than 10% of SRCL volumes are incinerated and this is only one out of eight incinerators, so volume is immaterial. We would also note that part of the volumes that go to incinerators do so in order to keep the facility at 100% capacity. SRCL has the option of redirecting some waste to autoclaving and other disposal alternatives if need be. We view movement of the facility as a last resort option."
  • Stifel: "We believe the stock reaction is overblown. We believe Stericycle's main issue is political, not financial, and the financial impact to the company is not likely to be material."
  • William Blair: "TheStreet.com also referenced a potential criminal investigation, which we believe may relate to prior comments that internal tests were manipulated (again, as frequently reported in the local press) to improve test results; however, we have not been able to confirm if this is indeed the case and do not believe any criminal investigation is underway." The analyst added: "From a capacity standpoint, we believe that less than 10% of the company's medical waste is currently incinerated, and we estimate the Utah plant is less than 20% of the company's U.S. incineration capacity. Thus, even if the plant is closed, we believe it would only affect overall treatment capacity by 1% to 2%, and we believe this waste could easily be sent to other facilities."

Reality Check: An avalanche of analyst defense is to be expected. It's unclear if they were regurgitating what Stericycle told them. What I do know: Stericycle didn't return my calls pre-publication and didn't contact me, post-publication, to suggest that the impact would be minimal. Further, the Blair analyst makes it seem like it would be a no-brainer for the company to transport the waste to another facility further East. In his report, he says Stericycle could "likely just increase pricing to offset the higher fuel costs; it has the right to do so in most contracts." Maybe so, but price increases at Stericycle are a touchy subject these days after it settled a whistleblower lawsuit in New York on allegations that it overcharged state and local facilities. This, in my opinion, remains one to watch.

-- Written by Herb Greenberg 

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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