POET in buyout talks with ethanol producers
AP Energy WriterSIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Poet LLC, the nation’s top ethanol producer, is in buyout talks with a number of ethanol companies, the company’s founder told The Associated Press on Monday. ”We just feel there is a lot of promise in the future of the ethanol industry,” said Jeff Broin, chief executive of privately held Poet, which owns seven ethanol plants in Iowa. He offered no specific timetable and mentioned no company names. (See related story on this page.)VeraSun Energy Corp., the second largest U.S. ethanol producer, sought bankruptcy protection Oct. 31 after it suffered significant losses in the third quarter due to a dramatic spike in the cost of corn it turns into fuel. Shares of smaller ethanol players such as Pacific Ethanol Inc., Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings Inc. and Biofuel Energy Corp. are trading at a fraction of what they once were, creating an environment in which it may be cheaper to buy an ethanol company than to build new plants. Broin said Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Poet is looking to add plants that are in the right location with the right amenities. ”I think, quite honestly, some of the plants out there may be stranded capital. They were built in the wrong locations,” Broin said. ”But there are some that we have significant interest in.” Broin said he is examining ”entire company opportunities.” Many Wall Street analysts remain bearish on biofuels. JPMorgan analyst Terry Bivens said consolidation could benefit the industry. He said he expects depressed gasoline prices to lower demand for corn-based ethanol, but the long-term outlook is more favorable. According to auto club AAA, the national average price for regular fell to about $1.91 a gallon overnight, less than half the cost when fuel hit record highs in July. ”We expect gas prices to eventually rebound and ethanol production capacity to consolidate,” Bivens wrote in JPMorgan’s 2009 alternative energy outlook. With slim profit margins already weighing on the biofuels industry, VeraSun, which is also based in Sioux Falls, found itself in a liquidity crisis after locking in at higher-than-market corn prices. Farmers have objected to VeraSun’s ability to reject corn contracts it signed before seeking bankruptcy protection and challenged its ability to do so Friday with the Delaware bankruptcy court. Broin said Poet’s hedging actually boosted the company’s financial standing, and allowed it to pursue acquisitions in a rough year for the industry. Poet, which has been making ethanol from corn for more than 20 years, operates 26 plants that collectively can pump out about 1.54 billion gallons of the alternative fuel each year. Broin said the company has brought three plants online in the past 70 days. In Iowa, Poet owns plants in Ashton, Coon Rapids, Corning, Emmetsburg, Gowrie, Hanlontown and Jewell. Poet has plans to start building at least two new plants in the spring, but an acquisition could trump that timetable if the company’s design and construction division is tied up retrofitting newly added facilities.
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