Green Plains Renewable Energy: Fiscal Smarts Turns Corn to Growth

IBT 1000: Green Plains Renewable Energy

on February 13 2012 3:03 PM
Corn
Green Plains Renewable Energy has done everything to corn, short of sticking it in your soft drink. REUTERSREUTERS/Mark Blinch

Green Plains Renewable Energy, an ethanol producer that has catapulted itself to No. 11 on the IBTimes 1000 list by carefully screened expansions while minding dollars and cents.

The IBTimes 1000 is a list of the 1,000 fastest growing, publicly traded companies in the world, gauged by their compound average growth rate over three years, from 2009 to 2011.

The Omaha, Neb.-based company (NASDAQ:GPRE) has enjoyed a three-year compound annual growth rate of 141 percent, making it the second-fastest growing American company and the fastest growing ethanol producer. Odds are a bit of the gasoline in your car's tank can be traced back to Green Plains' facilities.

The company ended 2011 with revenue of $3.6 billion, up from $2.1 billion the year before. The figures are a far cry from its initial revenue of $24.2 million in 2007, when it opened its first facility in Shenandoah, Iowa.

Green Plains ships about one billion gallons annually, a tough sell at a time when ethanol margins are compressed and the market is flush with 13.7 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. But that's where the company's attention to detail becomes an asset.

We are maintaining our disciplined approach to managing commodity risks and are continually assessing production levels to optimize our operating performance, said Green Plains' CEO Todd Becker during an earnings call.

The long-term fundamentals for ethanol are solid. There continues to be a strong economic incentive to blend ethanol and we expect certification of [gasoline comprised of 15 percent ethanol] in the near future. With our strategy of diversification and focus on operating efficiencies, combined with our strong cash balance, we believe we are well positioned to manage through sustained cyclical downturns.

The revenue figures marked a year of expansion, with a number of acquisitions adding to completed upgrades to existing facilities. In 2011, the company purchased an ethanol plant in Minnesota, installed corn oil extraction machinery in its ethanol plants and increased storage capacity.

By the end of the calendar year, the company had solidified its place as the nation's fourth-largest ethanol producer. It had also jumped aboard the corn oil bandwagon, which is used as animal feed and in biodiesel, as a second source of revenue.

Green Plains broke ground on a facility last year in Shenandoah that will feature bioreactors converting algae into animal feed, fuel and omega-3 products.

While it built its first four ethanol plants on its own, the next five were acquisitions. The company's track record indicates an ability to invest smartly and turning around facilities to make them increasingly productive and profitable.

We continue to search for M&A opportunity and ways to grow our company internally, Becker said. We want to grow all segments of our business but we will not rush to add up the price location and fit that are not right for Green Plains. We will build a collection of great assets along the value chain that we are very proud of. It is not easy to buy good plants at good locations as the owners or such plants are in very good financial shape especially from the last six months.

The smart moves make them a safe long-term bet for investors, said Craig Irwin, an analyst for Wedbush Securities.

They're doing the right things to preserve profitability, he said. These guys are just really solid operators. They're going to cover their interests and wait for better margins before they lock in the rest of the year.

Shares fell in early afternoon trading 17 cents to $11.02.

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