The “Ring of Fire Millionaires” (DeHaemer)

Sleuthing out DeHaemer's "flyover country" nat. gas picks for Crisis and Opportunity

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, April 19, 2012

Christian DeHaemer appears to have gotten a bit of a reputation in the great Gumshoe Universe — readers started asking me about this pitch before I’d even seen it, which is rare, indeed.

And perhaps they’re not to be blamed — he and his colleagues over at Angel Publishing (Nick Hodge, et al) have been known to occasionally push a story so hard, and for so long, that share prices continually spike upward … at least when it happens to also be a good story with some external catalyst, or when the company they’re pitching is very small.

That’s caught the eye of a lot of folks in the burgeoning graphite space, and, most recently with DeHaemer, with his aggressively touted East Africa oil plays — particularly Africa Oil, which actually had an oil discovery and has been shooting out the lights this year both because of that discovery, and because DeHaemer won’t let anyone forget about them.

Today’s pitch for Crisis and Opportunity is not so wild as that, at least from my perspective — he’s teasing some natural gas-related investments, but most of them are relatively large North American companies and they’re not likely to quadruple in a few months like some of these little explorers or junior resource plays do. Still, he’s teasing a few interesting ideas and at least one of them is a really small stock, which tends to get people excited … and the masses have spoken, so we’ll try to answer with some sleuthifying.

The “Ring of Fire” being teased by DeHaemer this time around is not the widely-accepted “ring of fire” that describes the volcanic basins of the Asian rim (or “rim of fire,” sometimes), but a “ring” that DeHaemer draws on the US map, awkwardly encompassing the shale oil and gas fields of Texas, Louisiana, the Marcellus, the Bakken, and lots of others inbetween that sort of fit into that circle.

So it’s a natural gas play. But don’t worry (or at least, don’t worry as much as I think you’re starting to worry), it’s more a “picks and shovels” and a “low nat gas prices” pitch, not a recommendation for one of the many natural gas explorers or producers who are getting hammered with our incredibly low natural gas prices … those Marcellus Shale discoveries sure sounded a lot more exciting when natural gas was at $11 a few years ago than they do now at $1.80.

What, then, is he recommending? Here’s a bit of the tease to get us going:

“According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States is sitting on over 862 TRILLION cubic feet of natural gas buried in shale gas reserves throughout the Ring of Fire….

“That’s over a century’s worth of domestic supply at today’s consumption rates.

“And at today’s prices, that’s literally TRILLIONS of dollars’ worth of natural gas.

“This vast supply is a game-changer.

“And right now, there is a little-known piece of legislation sitting in Congress that, when passed, will propel the companies I’m recommending into once-in-a-lifetime profit plays.”

The catalyst of that “little-known piece of legislation” is, as you might have guessed, the oft-cited HR 1380, the Natural Gas Act that was supposed to jump-start natural gas as a transportation fuel (and may still do so, if it ever gets passed) … here’s how he puts it:

“In fact, this situation is so ripe for fortunes to be made, billionaire investors George Soros and T. Boone Pickens have thrown money into the game. And I’m not talking seed money here — unless you think a $122 million investment by Soros in one company alone is small potatoes…

“Why does he believe so much in this company?

“It’s all tied to a bill going through Congress right now called House Resolution 1380…

“HR1380: The Secret Catalyst to 532% Gains

“HR1380 is dubbed the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act — or for short, the first letter of each word: NATGAS” ….

“HR1380 is the first thing the government has gotten right in years…

“You see, Uncle Sam is offering a $64,000 tax credit — PER TRUCK — to swap out diesel engines with engines that will run on natural gas. And at the going rate of $4.12 a gallon for diesel, everyone in the transportation industry has been looking for cheaper fuel alternatives.

“And here’s where the opportunity gets really big…

“The liquefied natural gas equivalent to gallon of diesel is less than a buck.

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“So not only is natural gas over 75% cheaper than diesel, now Uncle Sam is going to PAY companies to switch over to natural gas engines.

“In the next five years, the number of natural gas-powered vehicles will shoot from nearly 100,000 to well over 700,000!

“And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more interesting, there’s one more thing you should know…

“Uncle Sam also wants to hand out up to $100,000 in tax breaks to companies that provide natural gas refueling pumps!

“The signing of NATGAS will send companies that have expertise in natural gas-powered engines and natural gas refueling capabilities into the stratosphere.”

The teases about HR 1380 have been around the block plenty of times, just as previous teases for similar measures cited the Pickens Plan a couple years back — there have been several bills proposed and that seemed “shoo ins” for promoting natural gas as a transportation fuel, particularly in large trucks, but for whatever reason (cost, a desire to make sure nothing gets passed that makes your political opponents look good, lobbying pressure from competitive technologies or resources, etc.), the bills haven’t passed and there isn’t a huge incentive structure for natural gas vehicles right now. We just passed the one-year anniversary of HR 1380’s introduction in this particular Congress, for whatever that’s worth, and the act’s major provisions most recently failed as an amendment to the Highway Bill last month (numbering starts over in each Congress, so if it doesn’t pass we’ll probably get a new bill for the teaser mill early next year).

Of course, the incredible drop in natural gas prices means that, if companies have the confidence to look a few years out and make investments, there might not NEED to be a big incentive structure, save perhaps for the infrastructure build out for refueling stations. But that’s still up for debate, particularly since volumes are still low enough that natural gas engines are substantially more expensive than diesel engines (again, debatable — particularly if you include estimates of “life of engine” maintenance) … the underlying fact that natural gas engines of comparable power to diesel exist, and can be run at dramatically lower fuel costs, is pushing a fair amount of gas conversion even without a robust federal program to incentivize fleet owners.

But anyway, we know about Westport Technologies (WPRT), which is the “big name” player in natural gas engine technology, and a stock we’ve covered many times since it first hit our radar in 2008 — and we know it looks godawful expensive at these prices, though not as crazy as it was a little while back when it was scraping it’s head on $50 a share. That’s apparently not the pick DeHaemer is teasing today (for what it’s worth, I called WPRT a “hold” in my annual review a few months ago when it was around $40, the story remains logical and compelling but it’s been now four years of “we’re almost profitable” talk and the valuation looked extended to me, though opinions certainly differ wildly on this one).

So what is he pitching, if not the perennial-newsletter-favorite WPRT?

“The first company I’m recommending to you supplies engineering services and fuel delivery systems used in natural gas engines.

“Every manufacturer that jumps into building natural gas-powered engines will need their engineering expertise and their products.

“That alone has them poised to double, maybe even triple, profits from the passage of HR1380.

“But what puts them head and shoulders above every other player is that they also provide the same types of services and products to natural gas storage and fuel distribution facilities…

“The very ones that will be built by the hundreds when HR1380 is passed.

“This company’s got both sides of HR1380 covered, and when the bill is signed… their stock will soar.

“532% could just be the beginning!”

Well, this one is not well-stocked enough with clues to give the Thinkolator a 100% certain answer, but we’ll say that this is “pretty sure” to be Fuel Systems Solutions (FSYS), which despite a Navellier teaser a few years ago is generally a much quieter and more diversified play on natural gas engineering and technology than Westport. It’s also a lot cheaper, since they’re actually profitable. The shares are down by 20% or so since the most recent failure of the natural gas legislation, and now trade at a trailing PE of about 80 and a 2013 PE of about 20 (analysts are expecting that they’ll make a bit more than 50 cents per share in 2012 and a dollar a share in 2013). They also trade pretty close to book value, though they’ve made some acquisitions so I don’t know if that’s “real” book value or “goodwill.”

Don’t know they company well, but they do offer a variety of natural gas technologies and services, including for refueling stations and for engines, though they’ve generally been talked about as more levered to nat gas as a gasoline replacement than to nat gas as a diesel replacement (ie, their technology or specialty is in smaller engines), I don’t know if that’s still true or not. I expect that part of the reason for FSYS’s poor performance relative to WPRT of late is that they don’t have a single-sector catalyst like Westport’s “Nat gas for heavy trucks” sales pitch, but if we’re going to generally trend toward more natural gas engines and more natural gas pumping stations, they would be a logical beneficiary. And they’re not freakishly expensive if the analysts are right, though I don’t know what regulatory assumptions the analysts are making.


“Wall Street barely realizes the potential of company #2 because they look at it the wrong way.

“And that’s why it’s currently such a bargain.

“Put quite simply, they’re a manufacturer of heavy-duty vehicles like trucks, buses, and RVs. While their brands are fairly well-known, what most investors miss is their potential to skyrocket when HR1380 is passed…

“Because unnoticed by many, they’ve just announced their intent to offer natural gas-powered vehicles.

“And just as overlooked is their partnership with Clean Energy Fuels Co. — the very same Clean Energy Fuels that T. Boone Pickens has a stake in!

“Not only is this company going to benefit from the huge government subsidies of HR1380; they’re also assuring their vehicles can refuel with natural gas, which will catapult their rate of adoption.”

Feed number two into the Thinkolator, and spooling out the other end we get our happy little answer: Navistar (NAV)

Which on the surface is a dirt-cheap truck maker, but they do have that natural gas initiative — you can see the details of their partnership with Clean Energy Fuels and the Pilot Flying J truck stop folks here in the press release, they basically are making a deal with customers to help make sure there are a certain number of refueling stations available on set routes, and that there will be a certain cost savings over time for nat gas refueling compared to diesel. So that might bear some fruit. There’s one brief article on that deal here if you want a quick catch-up.

2011 was clearly a very bad year for NAV, though I can’t say that I know why — it’s a competitive business, to be sure, and they carry a LOT of debt, but the US truck fleet is very old and there ought to be plenty of opportunity as those older rigs have to be replaced eventually. Oh, and yes, Navistar is primarily a truck maker, with their recognized International brand, but they do also make buses (IC Bus) and RV’s (Monaco). I think Navistar, like their recently-more-successful competitor PACCAR (PCAR — they make Peterbilt and Kenworth), is using either Westport or Cummins-Westport technology in their nat gas engines.

So there you have it — a cheap and debt-heavy truckmaker that’s pushing natural gas engines, and a slightly more “under the radar” natural gas technology company. HR 1380 hasn’t passed, and given the political climate nothing might pass this year, but if natural gas continues to push into the transportation market these are, so sez the Thinkolator, the two picks Christian DeHaemer is recommending as a play on that theme.

But it’s not his money at stake, of course, it’s yours — so what do you think? Believe we’ll finally see natural gas engines really take off? If so, will Navistar or Fuel Systems Solutions provide a good ride on that tide? Let us know with a comment below.

P.S. Yes, DeHaemer did also briefly tease a tinier pick in this ad that works on fracking water — sorry, didn’t finish checking that one yet, but I’ll share it soon … if it’s the little unlisted stock that I think it is, it’s awfully speculative, so I’ll take a little more time to check on that one. Stay tuned.


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