" Marin Katusa: Let's start with the geothermal sector. Two years ago, geothermal was the buzz and hot sector in the junior resource sector. Today, nobody's talking about it. That's beautiful and fine by us because now these companies have developed projects and explored at a much lower cost of capital for present investors. But the investors got bored and sold the stocks. Now these companies are 50% cheaper than they were 16–18 months ago, but they have so much more value today than they did 18 months ago.
TER: What's unique about the geothermal?
MK: Of all the green energies, geothermal is by far the most economic. It makes sense. It works without government subsidies. But, when you include the government subsidies, it's like taking candy from a baby (or from Obama, not sure which is easier). The government's providing the construction loan guarantees and refinancing the projects at around 4% debt versus a year ago when companies were doing it at +14%. That's a big difference on the bottom line for cash flow. You can cheaply buy geothermal companies that actually have positive cash flow. I think it's the cheapest sector today—period.
TER: One of the downsides of geothermal is it's a relatively small sector. There aren't a lot of players in it. What will really take it to the next level?
MK: That's actually the upside. Because there are so few players and it is so front-CAPEX extensive, consolidation will have to happen to create the size. The key number to get the attention of a big firm, such as MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. (NASDAQ:MDPWM; OTCBB:MDPWM), which is Warren Buffet's energy company, is 500 megawatts (MW) of production. Whether it's Ram Power Corp. (TSX:RPG) taking over Nevada Geothermal Power (TSX.V:NGP), Nevada Geothermal taking over Ram, Nevada taking over Magma Energy Corp. (TSX:MXY), Magma taking over Nevada or a merger between Ram and Magma—there's going to be consolidation. But the question of who will be the consolidator is still up in the air.
You want to be in the company that's going to have the largest upside. We put Nevada Geothermal, Ram and Magma as buys because they're run by excellent people. They're undervalued compared to a year ago. In January, Nevada Geothermal was over $1. We recently wrote about it trading in the .50 range. Now the company's refinanced its debt and had a recent equity financing in which very smart money like Rick Rule participated in (as did we). It's producing close to 50 MW now and will be growing production in the very near future; and, better yet, Ormat Technologies Inc. (NYSE:ORA) just bucked up some big money to farm into one of its other projects. A year and a half ago, it wasn't producing; so it's so much cheaper today and is a much better company.
TER: We've seen some consolidation. Over a year ago, you had Ram and Magma. . .
MK: Ram was created when Polaris Geothermal and Sierra Geothermal Power Corp. merged with Hezy Ram's private company. Magma is purchasing a lot of the Iceland production and it purchased Soda Lake in Nevada. Consolidation is going to continue.
TER: Why haven't these consolidator plays seen any market appreciation since the IPOs?
MK: Well, frankly, a lot of upside was already priced into the IPO of those two. We stated very clearly to be patient and wait until the "mojo" and "excitement" of the IPO weakened and both companies hit our buy targets, which they are currently at; both are great buys today. There's a lot of sex appeal to these companies.
Geothermal is a very difficult business—you have to produce results. It's not like gold where you can do some geophysics, some trenching, pop a couple of holes and say, "I think I've got 5 million ounces of gold here," then wave your hands and have a +$100 million market-cap company. In geothermal, when you pop in that hole it's going to cost you US$4–$6 million per well and you know what you have.
Ross Beaty and Ram raised hundreds of millions of dollars and they had all these huge projects with a lot of potential. There was a lot of hype built into the price and a lot of expectations. I told people just to be patient and not buy the stocks. That was a very frustrating period for me because we had subscribers asking, "Why can't we buy it now?" It's a funny thing, we got a lot of grief for telling subscribers to "BUY under $X" but it was EXACTLY the right thing to do. So, the price and timing of your purchase are just as important as selecting the right company in which to invest.
I was on a panel with Ross Beaty at a Casey Conference in September 2009 when the stock was about $2.25. Somebody on the panel asked what I thought. My answer was: "Be patient. Buy under $1.50." Within six months, it got to $1.35. That's because the big institutions had unrealistic expectations, got bored and, more importantly, didn't understand the geothermal sector. A lot of mining investors invested in the geothermal sector, but their timeframe was much shorter than that needed for the geothermal sector. Geothermal today is the uranium sector in 2004. Today, gold is hot and the investors took their money and placed it elsewhere. Geothermal is getting no love. Like I said before, we look for undervalued "unloved companies and sectors." And a patient investor will make a lot of money in a few years by investing today in the geothermal sector.
TER: What are the good buys in geothermal?
MK: Right now, we have three buy recommendations: Nevada Geothermal, Ram Power and Magma.
TER: The big 800-pound gorilla in the geothermal sector is Ormat. Does it fall into the buy category?
MK: No. It has some issues with the regulators right now. It's a big company that has undergone a management change. I believe you have much more upside owning Magma than you do owning Ormat. But I do believe you will see Ormat involved in the consolidation of, or investment in, other companies' projects like the one it just announced with Nevada Geothermal, which by the way, is a fantastic deal for Nevada Geothermal shareholders.
TER: Magma and Ram are already consolidation plays, but Nevada Geothermal is not. Does that make Nevada a better opportunity?
MK: If you compare Ram and Nevada, the big difference is that no one expects Ram to be bought out today. Ram doesn't have enough production. The beauty of Nevada Geothermal is that not only is it going to be growing these projects, but also President and CEO Brian Fairbank and his team are very good and very well respected on the technical front. They built the plant and will increase production on Faulkner. The Blue Mountain Faulkner 1 is the largest plant built in Nevada in more than 20 years and it's one of the largest plants built in the U.S. over the last 10 years. He will not only increase the production of project, but he has three phases coming.
A lot of people are wondering if Magma, Ormat or Ram will buy the company out. So not only is there near-term growth within the company, but you also have the speculation: "Will it get bought out?" That gives you a double-impact speculation. The "hot" money hasn't even figured out this play yet, but it will. With Ram, it is just growth. That's the difference between the two....."