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US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth

Alabama metallurgical coal producer Warrior Met Coal has again cashed in on robust pricing for quality coking coal – and kept up a striking dividend payout rate – while maintaining a cautious approach to significant expansion via the proposed $600 million Blue Creek longwall mine.
US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth US met-coal Warrior continues to weigh growth

Alabama producer Warrior Met Coal cashing in on robust pricing for quality coking coal

Staff reporter

The company, which has lifted 2019 production guidance to 7.5-7.9 million tons from the previous 7.1-7.5Mt on the back of record June quarter sales and production volumes 2.24Mt and 2.195Mt, respectively, generated net income of US$125.5 million on $397.6 million revenues for the quarter, up 37% and 22.9% year-on-year, respectively. It said it sold 97% of its coal at the Australian premium low-volatility hard coking coal (HCC) index average price of $172.96/t in the latest quarter.

Warrior's record Q2 free cash flow of $197.2 million, up nearly 98% on the same period in 2018, came during a period in which it outlaid $34.2 million on mine development and general capex.

It also paid out a special dividend of about $230 million - compared to its current market capitalisation of $1.27 billion - taking the special dividend payout since its 2017 IPO to a whopping $1.2 billion.

"Warrior has essentially paid its current market cap in special dividends since its IPO," said New York investment bank Jefferies in a note on the results.

"Maintaining that level is not our base case even without major capex for Blue Creek as we monitor headwinds in the seaborne met coal market and re-test our thesis accordingly."

Jefferies has a buy on the (current) $24.74 stock, not far off where it was trading at the start of 2019 but well down on the $32.93 of early May this year.

Warrior continues to "explore the possibility" of a 3Mtpa single-longwall operation at Blue Creek, north of its Mine No.4 North Portal, with a view to making a development decision early next year.

"[Company] liquidity and leverage are under control, and free cash flow generation has been strong," Jefferies said.

"Warrior continues to leverage its strengths - a flexible cost structure, high quality product and blending capabilities to maximize price realizations - while being prudent in benchmarking new projects, opting for significant de-risking before committing capital to growth versus capital returns.

"Even though the last of the four private equity firms that owned Warrior at the time of the IPO, Apollo, has exited its stake, we still expect significant free cash flow and subsequently special dividends, but acknowledge the potential benefits of further deleveraging.

"Strength in seaborne met coal prices over the past year invited new supply, including Warrior with Blue Creek, but demand is still a function of Chinese steel market strength.

"The demand outlook has become a concern as Chinese steel market indicators are weakening. Furthermore, expected weakness in Europe and South America - key markets - means the focus will be on Asia for better demand and stronger pricing."