Oh, No! Renewable Energy Group CEO Departs

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Oh, No! Renewable Energy Group CEO Departs

Intirim CEO plans no strategy change

Jim Lane

In Iowa, Renewable Energy Group (REGI) announced that Dan Oh has resigned as President and Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the Company’s Board of Directors. The resignation was effective July 3, 2017. The Board of Directors appointed long-time director Randolph (Randy) L. Howard as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer.

Howard is a 33-year veteran of Unocal, has been on the REG board since 2007 so, a familiar face at 67, may not be in the job for the long-haul, but a strong interim pick.

Oh departs as the company’s stock hit a 3-year high of $13.39 in Monday trading, and has surged 46.2% in the past 12 months, topping the notable surge in biofuels equities which has seen the Zack’s biofuels sector average jump 30.6% year-on-year.

REG stock traded down a whopping 5.74% on the news, closing at $12.40.

Staying the course

“The strategy is in place and there’s no change,” CEO Randy Howard told The Digest. “That is our #1 message. We placed markers on the table and we intend to execute, and today we are seeing part of that execution as we bring in leaders who can take us to that next level.”

Howard is the iCEO for now, but there’s no sense of a caretaker the company will continue to drive while the search takes place. “We’ve grown dramatically, and we’ve presented to our investor community a growth perspective for our biodiesel projects, and for hydrocarbon projects like Geismar, and new products. We’ll need leadership that can manage can build big projects like that, and manage companies of that scope and scale. I obviously hope to accelerate that growth, there’s no time limit on the search [for a new CEO], and I am all in until we get it right, with the long-term leadership that can take us to the next level.”

Projects there are, but also the ongoing project known as public policy. The EPA proposed a 2019 “no growth” RVO. But Howard was not dismayed.

“We see in the next several months,” Howard predicted “public policy coming together to give the biodiesel a secure future for an extended time. Not this year to year of tax credits, RVOs and import penalties. All of it we think is coming together, so that we will have a public policy in place that permits the industry to manufacture to its capacity.”

Meanwhile, Howard pointed to the short-term organic growth opportunities. “We have opportunities such as our Ralston plant where we were birthed, to increase capacity and projects like these can fundamentally can help us grow in the mid to long term. I think that’s why investors have become excited in recent months. They see benefits in the financial short term but also a vision for long-term growth. Not just running a set of assets.”

Bullish outlook, yes. But there’s some ‘whoa Nelly’ in terms of expectations on timing. Think ‘expansion to 112 million gallons at Geismar’ as an all-but-certain reality. Think the same way about optimization of existing assets. Think “not ready to make that decision, but soon” on further doubling Geismar’s capacity as much as 234 million gallons specific volumes to be better studied before decision time. As far as greenfield hydrocarbon projects, Howard noted, “the other facilities we are looking at, that’s not this year for sure. That’s all in process, but there are a lot of issues to work through when it comes building greenfield projects.”

A three-year stock high

Late last month at the company’s Investor Day in New York City, the company pointed analysts confidently towards $150 million or higher annual earnings, saying that they saw $100 million or more coming from the company’s biodiesel operations and as much as $50 million in annual earnings from its renewable hydrocarbon business based in Geismar Louisiana.

Oh said that the company would be “expanding, adding geographies, products and markets and capturing more downstream margin, citing the development of speciality products. Though Argentine imports have surged into the US in response to favorable prices for advanced biofuels, Oh predicted that “trade sanction activity is underway, and it looks like going to happen.” He saw the import and export trade “moving back to balance”. And he said that a reinstatement of the $1.01 per gallon biomass-based diesel tax incentive “seems likely”.

Oh pointed to the “growing global distillate market,” and said that, in contrast to the travails of ethanol producers, “we don’t have tension with petroleum,” because of the global call for more heavy-duty, distillate fuel. The world needs more of what we do.” Oh noted at the time that just a 3 percent increase in global demand would increase the market for diesel by 12 billion gallons, and noted that LMC and EIA projections saw the distillate market growing from 480 billion gallons per year to more than 700 billion by 2030.

REG’s Competitive Advantage

We’ve noted it before, REG has been building a mini-trading behemoth, accessing a wide range of lower cost, lower carbon intensity (CI) raw materials that gives the company “pricing flexibility”, and “reliability as an off-take customer for key suppliers of contract-manufactured fuel”. The company also notes that it is “a preferred supplier to key customers and trading partners” known for an “ability to meet stringent customer specifications” with its REG-9000 biodiesel product. For carbon value, the company ability to deliver a massively advantaged molecule with 50% lower CO2 emissions has given it access to $1.00+ per gallon RIN credits that have been giving biodiesel the cost advantage it has needed.

REG’s Growth

Accordingly, the company has been on a production tear, growing 39% annually since 2010, reaching 567 million gallons of production in 2016, and displacing 3 million tons of CO2 last year.

The company was growing with the industrial sector, in many ways global biobased diesel production had risen from just over 4 billion gallons at the height of the “green fuels craze” in 2008 to more than 10 billion in 2016, and LMC is projecting the global production will top 14 billion gallons by 2020.

The boom has been particularly on in California, where sales of biomass-based diesel rose, according to the California Air Resources Board, from less than 20 million gallons in Q4 2012 o 110 million gallons in Q4 2016.

One trouble spot in boom times? Surging imports from Argentina and Indonesia in 2016 according to REG, an 843 percent increase over 2014 for Argentina and 117% increase for Indonesia. The US Department of Commerce will determine on August 22nd whether countervailing duties will be imposed over charges of dumping. The Europea
n Commission imposed antidumping duties on Argentine and Indonesia biodiesel for five years starting in Q4 2013, crushing the volume of fuels shipped to the EU.

Overall in 2016 the company recorded a record $2.0 billion in revenue and recorded $102 million in adjusted EBITDA. Overall, EBITDA has been growing even faster than the gallonage the company has recorded a 67% annual growth rate in earnings since 2010 when the com[any was essentially a break-even proposition, before RFS2 kicked in strongly starting in 2011.

Overall, revenue has doubled since 2012; although the company’s annual EBITDA has been on the up-and-down, following the mercurial policy ups and downs in DC. and the low energy prices seen since 2015. EBITDA reached a high of $148M in 2013 and dipped to $50M in 2015 before recovering last year.

However, the balance sheet has been strengthened net working capital has doubled since 2012 and book value has almost doubles, and the company had $82 million in cash and just $217 million in debt, which is down from a high of $252 million in 2014.

Feedstock Market Outlook

In its analyst presentations, REG saw corn oil supplies expanding with a growth in US ethanol exports, and an uptick in animal rendering fats with meat production numbers climbing. Oh said that the company would continue to intensify its efforts on waste feedstocks. The company presented this overview of historical price data on feedstocks and molecule prices the “crush spread”:

The big growth opportunity? The EU

REG acquired its first production capacity in Eastern Europe, Petrotec, not long ago, and strategically there’s a strong rationale, with a advanced biofuels target under the proposed Renewable Energy Directive set in the 1.5-9% range, or an overall 6.5 billion gallons market. “ REG noted that the “RED II proposal aims to expand success by growing and emphasizing the lowest carbon advanced biofuels.”

Geismar, the Rock Star

The old Dynamic Fuels plant, which REG acquired in 2014 after it had been idled for nearly two years, never produced more than 75% of its nameplate capacity in any given month, and what REG described as “significant Mechanical & Processing Issues” dropped utilization as low as 20% in selected months. With new catalysts and upgrades to the technology, the Geismar plant reached 100% of nameplate in December 2016 and has produced in aggregate more than it’s nameplate capacity since then. The company acquired 82 acres at the GEismar site and is aiming at expansion at a site strategically located less than a mile from the Mississippi and less than 3 miles from the Bengal pipeline. Another set of upgrades are taking place in June.

The biggest opportunity is capacity expansion, and Geismar is slated for a 37 million gallon capacity increase, to north of 110 million gallons. An interesting opportunity worth noting? Specialty chemicals. The company says that its “Specialty Products Unit adds 10 MMGY of RHD capacity with an option to produce significantly higher margin specialty chemicals.”

Terminals and Energy Services

REG is aiming at life beyond producing fuels and chemicals, sold in to various third-party terminals. The company has identified seven terminal growth opportunity regions in the US.

The Life Sciences gambit

In 2015, REG acquired LS9 as the base for an entry into specialty chemicals and more. The division has been 11 years in the making with $135 million invested and not much to show by way of revenue, although there have been a steady stream of brand-name partners such as ExxonMobil. The REG Life Sciences unit is a “fatty acid derivative platform” from idea to manufacturing, with a small facility already in place in Florida.

The company has identified 11,000 “unique structures” and assembled nearly 200 patents to date, one multi-functional fatty acid (musk) has reached “phase 4 -pre-launch” and a second sale id expected in Q3 2017. Nine other products are in the development pipeline, i various stages of partner discussions ranging from nutrition, esters plastics, fragrances, and polyamides.

Overall, REG Life Sciences aims to compete in four markets flavors & fragrances, the C8/C10 platform, speciality polyamides and novel building blocks, with a total addressable market size of $25.3 billion, growing by more than 5 percent per year.

The Digest’s Take

Here’s your takeaway. REG is staying the course and ready to execute its strategy as unveiled with its investors last month in New York.

Transitions at the top always create nervousness. They involve regret for the loss of valued leaders. In this case, no reason for nerves. And reason to re-focus on REG’s big, big opportunity. If it executes the strategy, builds a large and strongly committed investor base, and gets the decisions right on expansion opportunities. A great strategy is validated by great execution.

Let’s salute Dan Oh and the company he built the people and the systems that remain will be his substantial and substantive legacy. Now, let’s salute Randy Howard and the company that’s emerging with growth opportunities that any company in this sector would envy.

Now, it’ll be noses to the grindstone in Ames as the company tackles decisions on optimization and expansion Geismar, terminals, upgrades in the existing fleet, M&A opportunities, generating cash out of REG Life Sciences. It’s a heady set of opportunities and choices for REG as it aims to go from a 3-year high in the stock price to something even more special.

Jim Lane is editor and publisher  of Biofuels Digest where this article was originally published. Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.


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