Sam Zell built his reputation and wealth as a distressed investor, and with much of the energy industry in distress, Par Pacific Holdings is a way to invest alongside him and his management team in an environment that should see plenty of attractive deal opportunities. The bulk of Par Pacific today was created through two acquisitions of refining and retail assets in Hawaii. In 2013, they bought Tesoro's Hawaiian operations for $75MM plus a $40MM earn out and in 2015 they paid $120MM for Mid Pac Petroleum (primarily retail locations). Last year alone these assets generated $110MM in EBITDA. Distress in the upstream oil and gas sector is migrating down to pipeline and retail players, Par Pacific's main focus going forward.
In current form, the company has three primary assets: Par Petroleum (Hawaiian downstream business), Laramie Energy (Colorado based natural gas E&P), and the tax assets.
Par Petroleum: Refinery, retail distribution network and related logistics assets located in Hawaii.
- Tesoro had mothballed their Hawaiian refinery and related assets, running them as an import, storage and distribution terminal while running an asset sale. Most everyone passed, Tesoro wrote down the refinery to nothing, and then eventually Par came along and scooped it up for $75MM plus working capital/inventory. Why did Par get a deal? Tesoro made the strategic decision to exit Hawaii and focus on a new large acquisition it made with BP's old refinery in Southern California that could be operationally leveraged with Tesoro's in the same vicinity. The Hawaiian business provided limited operational synergies and was a small piece of Tesoro's overall refinery business. With no other buyers, Tesoro was able to effectively reallocate $325MM of net working capital to a more productive project for them with Par as the beneficiary.
- Being isolated in the Pacific Ocean, in order to drive profitability Par needed to increase it's on island sales otherwise it's expensive to ship refined product to either the west coast or Asia ($6 per barrel). In 2014/2015 Par announced and closed on the acquisition of Mid-Pac Petroleum - 80 retail sites throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The Mid Pac deal helps Par sell their refined product locally and internalizes consumption allowing Par to get both retail and refinery margins. On a standalone basis the price wasn't outstanding, but the operational synergies Par will be able to squeeze out of their refinery makes it a transformational one. They also own the land under 20 of the retail locations, so they have the ability to do a sale leaseback in the future. With the Mid Pac retail locations, Par currently has 91 locations under the Tesoro and 76 brands, about 20% of the overall Hawaiian market.
- Management still believes there are acquisition opportunities in Hawaii, most likely additional retail to further drive the on island sales to match the output at the refinery, limiting the need to export.
- Later this year they will need to spend $30-35MM in maintenance capex at the refinery. I assume/hope they will do their best to run at peak capacity around the scheduled down time in order to minimize impact. Management has guided that the refinery will run at 1/2-2/3 capacity in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
- The refinery competes with one other in Hawaii, also located on Oahu, it was previously owned by Chevron and had shopped extensively until it was recently acquired by a private equity firm this month. It's about half the size and Par was optimistically thought to potentially be a buyer of some Chevron assets, but regulators probably wouldn't have it. The sale is likely just neutral for Par until we know more about the new owner's intentions.
- Par recently started breaking out their logistics assets as a separate reporting segment even though all sales are inter-company transactions and consolidated for reporting purposes. But this change potentially signals further midstream acquisitions and in a distant future where MLPs make sense again they could sponsor their own and drop assets down.
- The combined Par Petroleum segment did about $110MM in 2015 EBITDA, which will probably come down some in 2016 with crack spreads coming in and the planned downtime at the refinery.
- In March, Laramie Energy completed a bolt on acquisition of nearby acreage for $157.5MM with Par contributing $55MM. As a result of the deal, Par Pacific now owns 42% of the common equity and accounts for the position using the equity method. Par's additional investment essentially created their own balance sheet write-down as of 12/31/15, the better the deal for Par the larger the write-down they needed to take. But proforma for the acquisition, Laramie has a book value of $131MM.
- The timing of when the new acreage came up for sale wasn't ideal, management had been out in the investor community discussing mid and downstream acquisition targets but since this was adjacent to their existing JV the deal had a lot of strategic/operational value similar to what Mid Pac accomplished in Hawaii. They know the area, and can spread their overhead costs over a larger asset base giving them additional leverage if the natural gas market recovers.
- Bob Boswell runs Laramie Energy, he's an industry veteran, currently serves on the board of Cabot Oil & Gas and has a history of starting and selling oil and gas producers. In 2007, the first iteration of Laramie Energy was sold to Plains Exploration and Production for $1B, three years after the company was setup for $200MM (plus bank loan debt).
- Management seems realistic about this asset and has limited drilling planned for the near future. They've also hedged much of Laramie's production through 2018, giving it the ability to wait out the cycle for a few more years. It's mostly an upside option on natural gas prices.
- Why do I like NOLs? They attract long term investors that understand the importance of capital allocation and generally create an incentive to purchase cheap free cash flow businesses in order to monetize the NOL quickly. The sooner the NOL is used up, the more valuable it becomes.
- Having the NOL reduces Par Pacific's cost of capital allowing them to be more competitive (pay a higher price) for acquisitions. It also gives them additional flexibility in an asset sale (Laramie Energy for instance) where they could be more agreeable to a deal well above their cost basis knowing they have an NOL in place to shield capital gains.
- It is slightly tough having energy assets in an NOL heavy corporate structure, many energy businesses have built in tax shields to their business. Par hasn't made much, if any, progress yet in monetizing the NOL, they're going to need a couple sizable acquisitions in coming years to start making a dent.
Below is a quick and dirty valuation for Par Pacific, refiners trade for 4-6x EBITDA, midstream trades 12-15x EBITDA, and retail seems to trade around 8x EBITDA. For Laramie Energy, it's probably simplest to use the equity method book value; I'm thoroughly ignorant to how oil and gas companies are valued. If anyone has any specific thoughts on Laramie's value, I'd love to hear them.
Additionally, it seems like once a year the stock tanks for no apparent reason, in the summer of 2015 the company filed a shelf registration per the Shareholder Rights Agreement with Zell and other large shareholders which gave them the option to sell, but didn't actually mean they were going to, the stock sold off as if everyone was exiting and it went on to recover fairly quickly. Shareholder Rights Agreements are one of those filing events to look for as some people sell first and ask questions later.
- Hawaii - The state is a difficult place to do business, its heavily regulated and communal, they don't like outsiders running critical businesses in their state as can be seen with the Hawaiian Electric - NextEra merger drama. Politically the state has a long term plan to move away from fossil fuels and have their energy needs provided 100% by renewable energy sources by 2045. I would assume its safe to say that the military, tourism and other industries will still require refined products but there might not be room for two refineries long term if Hawaii meets its renewable energy mandate.
- Roll-up/Acquisition Strategy - Par Pacific describes itself as a growth company and most of that growth will come from repeated acquisitions funded through repeated capital raises. The serial acquisition platform companies of the recent cycle have made roll-ups a dirty word as cheap debt and giddy equity markets led to some questionable deals and following meltdowns. With Par Pacific you must believe in management's ability to identify attractive deals and not overpay for them.
- Equity Raises - Par Pacific will be a serial issuer of private placements or stapled rights offerings to fund its larger acquisitions in order to maintain the NOL asset. Rights offerings are usually done at a discount, so shareholders will need to participate in them or be diluted. I don't have any evidence to back this up, but it also seems to create a ceiling on the share price as investors become concerned that as the share price rises that management will use it as an opportunity to issue more equity.
- Natural Gas - After the recent bolt on acquisition, Laramie Energy is now a larger part of the company at a time when natural gas is as cheap and abundant as it has been in a long time. Many oil and gas companies are going bankrupt, others have pulled way back on production, maybe at some point in the distant future natural gas prices will rise again, but they're likely to stay low for the foreseeable future.