This column was originally published on RealMoney on Aug. 22 at 2:06 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.
Suddenly you have to ask, "Is
the gas station to the world, more than it is the supermarket to the world?"
This morning, Citigroup put out a terrific piece of research talking about the prospects of Archer Daniels becoming a producer of the base for plastics. At first, you think: Come on, corn as a material to take the place of oil has always been one of those "pork"-type issues, and no one would take Archer Daniels seriously as a producer of an alternative energy if it didn't either own so many congressmen or run so many ads on "Meet the Press."
But the more you think about it, the more you realize that corn's a darned good fuel, instantly reusable and, without a doubt, cleaner than oil. It's just that we have needed endless subsidies to make it worthwhile as a substitute.
Now, with oil in the $60s, who needs the $4-to-$5-a-barrel help that we always figured Archer Daniels was looking for? Now it can actually make a great return if it just builds the plants that would make corn as a feedstock for chemicals.
The excellent upgrade by David Driscoll, who just visited Archer Daniels, tells me that the company is on the verge of taking advantage of these prices, and it is only a matter of time before it builds the plants necessary to help us remove our oil-based dependence on plastic.
How big is it going to be? I think that's the wrong question. The right question is that even if you think that oil just stays here -- let alone the doomsday forecast we got in this weekend's
New York Times Magazine
, Archer Daniels doesn't deserve a supermarket multiple, it deserves an oil multiple, which puts the stock a lot higher than its current 12 times-earnings projections.
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