This renewables fund is a bargain for dividends

Now is a great time to buy this renewables fund. It is selling at absurdly low prices and paying a trailing 12 month dividend yield of 7.26%

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New Energy Solar Ltd (ASX: NEW) posted its half year results after the close of trading on Friday. The renewables fund provides solar powered electricity production via two solar plants in Australia and 14 in the United States. The company derives its income from power purchase agreements (PPA). These are long-term contracts to provide solar energy with prices fixed at the time of signing.

New Energy Solar has had a mixed year so far, due largely to the impact from coronavirus. Nonetheless, it has already paid out an interim dividend of 3 cents per share in August. Based on the New Energy Solar share price at the time of writing, this represents an unfranked interim dividend yield of 3.6%. Moreover, the company has a trailing, 12-month dividend yield of 7.26%.

The principal issue for this fund over the first half of 2020 has been lower energy prices. This is more collateral damage from the oil price feud between Saudi Arabia and Russia. As a result, this is likely to be a long-term trend within the sector. Fortunately for the fund, 96% of its current output is under existing PPAs, which have an average remaining term of 15.4 years. However, the price drop impacts the company in various ways.

Financial forecasts

PPAs largely insulate the renewables fund from a drop in prices for the periods that the agreements are in place. However, for the period beyond the life of these agreements, there is little pricing stability. Consequently, independent valuers take into account forecast prices over the assets' useful life, including the uncontracted period. 

As a result, New Energy has recorded a decrease on net asset value per security of 12.6%. Moreover, coronavirus has also led to a tightening of capital markets based on the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Operating results

During the 6-month period ended 30 June 2020, New Energy Solar's portfolio generated over 748.1 GWh of electricity. This production is equivalent to an annual CO2 displacement of 1,000,000 tonnes of emissions. Accordingly, powering 126,000 US and Australian equivalent homes, or removing 102,000 cars from the road.

However, actual plant output was less than guidance for the first half. This was due mainly to higher than anticipated rainfall in North Carolina and parts of New South Wales. In addition, the fund faced commissioning issues at two of its new power plants. One of which has resulted in a warranty claim. Lastly, on 17 June 2020, several plants at California sustained damage following a grass fire. This has reduced their availability to approximately 68% of name plate capacity until mid 2021.

Earnings of the renewables fund

The fund recorded total underlying revenues of US$33.8 million, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of US$23.8 million. Because of the capital structure of the renewables fund, $16.4 million is attributable to New Energy Solar. This is clearly a very profitable enterprise. Even more so because of the long-term pricing protection of the PPAs. 

Nevertheless, as an investment trust, it has to account for any change in valuation in its profit and loss statement. Hence, the company registered a statutory net loss of $52.7 million. The devaluation of the company's assets also had an impact on gearing, which now sits at 62.1%. New Energy Solar aims to have this at 50% over the long term. The company's weighted average debt maturity is 7.4 years, and refinancing this debt is not possible due to coronavirus uncertainty.

Foolish takeaway

The fund's business model insulates it from low energy prices on current assets for at least the next 15 years. On that issue alone, I believe the ongoing dividend payments are likely to be secure. However, as a weather dependent asset, there are always unknowns that can impact the company.

The clear challenges here are reducing the gearing of the fund, and looking for growth options that will preserve operating margins. Lastly, the market treats New Energy Solar as a dividend share. Therefore, the price builds up closer to the ex-dividend date, and then falls sharply. 

Buying this week will preserve high dividend yields into the future. The company currently has a share price that is 36.3% lower than its net tangible asset value per share.

Motley Fool contributor Daryl Mather has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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