Let’s talk about water, good ol’ H2O. Water isn’t a commodity you can physically invest in like gold, silver, or wheat. Because of this, we have to look at ways to invest in water indirectly. What are some of the options? Right off the bat there’s public utility companies such as American WaterWorks; followed by agricultural businesses that produce food; finally you have potash companies that use their recycled water byproduct as a means to sell to other companies that are in need of it.
One of these companies that could expose a portfolio to water is Intrepid Potash Inc (IPI). Intrepid Potash produces and sells potash and potash byproducts in two main product segments: Potash and Trio. The Potash segment produces and sells potash to the agricultural industry as a fertilizer input, the industrial market as a component of oil and gas drilling fluid, and the animal feed market as a nutrient supplement.
The Trio segment produces and sells specialty fertilizer that consists of potassium, sulfate, and magnesium, and is mined from langbeinite ore. The vast majority of revenue is generated in the United States, which is also the location of the firm’s production facilities. Here’s the other cool thing about IPI, it sells water. Taking a look at the third page of their last 10-K it reads, “We also have water rights in New Mexico and Utah under which we sell water primarily for industrial uses such as in the oil and gas services industry”. But it isn’t enough to know that IPI sells water. It isn’t enough to know where they record their water sales on their balance sheets. It’s important to know why water matters, and what could drive its demand.
Why Water Matters
Water is used for almost everything we humans do in the world. Its one of the essential building blocks of life for crying out loud! Now before I get scientists shouting, “the world is 70% water you idiot, how could we run out?!” You’re right. The odds of us running out of water are almost zero. However, the water that humans need is fresh water. Freshwater accounts for around 2.5% of the overall water population. This means we have 8 billion people fighting over 2.5% of a resource.
According to the World Resource Institute, water use is expected to rise by 50% by 2025 in developing countries, and 18% in the developed world. A really cool website I found for those that are nerds like myself, is http://www.worldometers.info/water/. Worldometers.info records in live time the amount of water consumed per year (in millions of liters) along with some statistics. According to Worldometers, “population is rising about 80 million per year, and energy demand is also increasing around the world, with corresponding implications for water demand” (Worldometers.info).
Now that we know how much water humans are working with, it’s important to understand just how we use that water in our society. Going back to our worldometers.info statistics, “agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption, compared to 20% for industry and 10% for domestic use” (Worldometers.info). Another cool site to check out if you’re interested in water usage / risk is http://www.wri.org/applications/maps/aqueduct-country-river-basin-rankings/#x=147.30&y=8.70&l=2&v=home&d=bws&f=0&o=171. This website displays what the WRI calls an “Aqueduct Water Risk Map”. This map rates country from 1 – 5 (1 being less at risk, 5 being severely at risk) for water shortages. Along with providing the average score for the country, the map breaks it down into the three major industries: domestic, agricultural, and industrial.
Take a look at the Baseline Water Stress Score, which is the ratio of total annual water withdrawals to total available annual renewable supply. Examining the developed nations we find the following scores (remember, its 1 – 5, with 5 being the worst scenario and 1 being no worries):
- United States – 2.9 Average (3.5 Agriculture, 2.8 Domestic, and 2.5 Industrial)
- Canada – 1.2 Average (2.4 Agriculture, 0.9 Domestic, and 1.2 Industrial)
- Mexico – 3.5 Average (3.7 Agriculture, 2.9 Domestic, and 2.9 Industrial)
- Brazil – 0.9 Average (0.9 Agriculture, 1.1 Domestic, and 0.9 Industrial)
- Argentina – 2.5 Average (2.9 Agriculture, 2.2 Domestic, and 1.8 Industrial)
- South Africa – 3.2 Average (3.2 Agriculture, 2.7 Domestic, and 3.3 Industrial)
- Every Country Average > 4.0
So now that we have a clearer understanding of the world in terms of water usage, supply, and shortage worries, let’s get more granular and find out just how water is used in the industrial industry, which is where Intrepid Potash is located. The Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources has a great PDF describing the uses of water for the oil and gas industry, an industry IPI sells their water rights and water too. I learned a ton about how water is used in the drilling process, so I’ve pasted a few quotes from the article below.
“During the drilling process water-based fluid (drilling mud) is used in a number of different ways including lubricating the drill bit, circulating the drill cuttings out of the hole, containing formation fluids and facilitating the operation of sophisticated formation evaluation tools.”
“Hydraulic fracturing operations which use water as the primary fracturing fluid can require thousands of cubic metres of water. These large volumes of water are required to stimulate each section of the length of the lateral and to carry the proppant material into the newly created fractures.”
Where Intrepid Potash Fits In
Now we can finally move on to the vehicle for our water investment, IPI. Intrepid Potash is committed to expanding their water sales resources for the year 2017 and beyond. According to their latest 10-K, IPI mentions water in their speciality product sales, saying, “Through our existing operations and assets, we also have the potential to grow our offerings of salt, water, and brine with low capital investments”, and, “In addition to our reserves, we have water rights and access to additional mineralized areas of potash for potential future exploitation” (IPI 2016 10-K). Reading into the balance sheet, I realized that IPI doesn’t explicitly record their water revenue under any particular name, rather they place it under “Other Income” on their books. But before we go into their water sales, it’s important to take a look at the company as a whole.
IPI is currently trading at a 22% discount to book value and only 1.1 times sales. Their financial strength isn’t great, which makes it an area of concern for investment. IPI has a Cash to Debt ratio of 0.24, ranking it lower than 62% of the companies in its industry. However, it has an Equity to Asset ratio of 0.76, which is better than 88% of companies in its industry. Looking towards profitability, IPI currently doesn’t make money, but their trends are headed in the right direction. After reporting a Net Income loss of -$524M in 2015, IPI reported their most recent 10-K Net Income at -$61.88M, a tremendous recovery and tilt in the right direction. Free cash flow is slowly but surely making the turn towards positive. After a dismal 2013 FCF reporting of -$185.9M, IPI has grown their FCF to -$29.69M in 2017.
What I like most about IPI’s prospects is their dedication to reducing debt and raising cash levels. In 2014, IPI had $151M in debt compared to $78.02M in cash. Since then, IPI has reduced its debt to $88.02M and grown its cash to $20.7M (compared to the prior year of $4.46M).
So what is the biggest driver of growth for the company? Their ability to sell water. Taking a look at the balance sheets we can find how much of an impact the water sales have had on their bottom-line. Remember IPI reports their water sales as ‘Other Income’. Looking at the 2016 10-K, we see that IPI’s Other Income grew from $575M in 2015 to $1,106M in 2016, close to a 50% growth in income. That’s impressive. My thesis, backed by the research on water, suggests that the demand for IPI’s water rights and water usage will continue to bolster the bottom-line of the company, propelling the company into positive FCF and a greater Cash to Debt Ratio, and it should be then reflected in the price action. Speaking of price action, let’s take a look at the charts to round out this analysis.
Price Action / Chart Analysis
Right now the charts are depicting what could be a bottom in the bearish trend of IPI. If you look closer you can see a wedge forming at the end of this long saucer formation
Price action has already crossed 50 MA in a bullish manner, and I like the increased volume I’m seeing on the charts as well. Anything close to the 3.00 strike range would be a good entry in my books, and I would set the stop below the 50 MA, which if hit, would rebuttal my bullish thesis and get me out safely. Not too sure on how much to risk, but I would be sure to keep it between 0.50% and 1% of capital.
In pure supply and demand terms, the world will eventually need more usable water than it currently has. Whenever an imbalance like that occurs, there is always a time and place to make a profit from it. If water has the likes of Michael Burry digging into it, it should be worth your time to do some digging as well. Below this piece are the websites used to research this piece. I hope this thesis is a good starting point for those that want to dig in further. If you find anything of substance, shoot us an email. Also, if you see anything wrong with this, shoot holes into the thesis so I can see where I could’ve been wrong in my thought process.