Although the economy is slowly getting better, commitments to major engineering and construction projects are still scarce and erratic. Making matters worse for Shaw Group (NYSE:SHAW), there's still a great deal of uncertainty in the U.S. power space as it pertains to licensing new nuclear facilities, retrofitting old plants and building new fossil-fuel power stations. While Shaw Group does look like a potential value today, investors have to be willing to exercise patience to see that value come to light.
SEE: Green Energy: Why We're Still Not Using It.
Mostly Good News for the Nuclear Business
While Japan's Fukushima disaster chilled the nuclear power market, Shaw is seeing respectable progress in this large business. SCANA (NYSE:SCG) and Southern Co. (NYSE:SO) have both gotten the go-ahead to move forward with nuclear plant projects, which de-risks a substantial part of Shaw's backlog. On the other hand, while there's still hope that Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN) (in the process of being acquired by Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK)) will get the go-ahead of a new facility in Florida, the company has been beset by a variety of problems with its nuclear plants.
Shaw also has a sizable facility maintenance business. Late in 2011, Exelon (NYSE:EXC) and Shaw renewed an agreement that covers Exelon's 17 reactors, and Shaw maintains about one-third of the country's nuclear power infrastructure.
SEE: The Economic Reasons Behind Nuclear Power.
Still a "Hurry Up and Wait" Environment
Outside of nuclear power, Shaw is still waiting to see a real pick up in orders. The company got a contract to build a combined cycle plant for Entergy (NYSE:ETR), but the expected coal plant retrofitting work has been slow to come on. Eventually, it will, as a large percentage of the U.S. energy infrastructure is still coal-based and retrofits are needed in order to meet EPA regulations, but the timing is obviously uncertain.
Other business has to wait. Shaw can look to benefit from projects related to water infrastructure and coastline remediation, but nobody really knows when those contracts will be awarded. What's more, there will be plenty of rivals like KBR (NYSE:KBR) and Fluor (NYSE:FLR) lining up for their share.
Growth and Divestment
Shaw seems to be pursuing a somewhat unusual strategy given its stated goals. While management has talked about trying to diversify the business, they are also looking to sell its energy infrastructure business. Given that Shaw really hasn't seen the level of growth that others like CB&I (NYSE:CBI), it may make sense to divest, but it doesn't immediately facilitate a more diverse mix.
On the other hand, the company does have some growth opportunities. Shaw has long been heavily weighted towards the U.S., but that's changing a bit. Not only is the company benefiting from growing nuclear energy construction outside the U.S., but Shaw is also seeing more interest in places like Brazil for manufacturing facilities.
The Bottom Line
Despite a healthy backlog, Shaw does still have plenty of risks - the company needs to continue to secure new orders, while also making sure to bring existing orders in on time and on budget. While the large power plant maintenance business is a plus, investors will need to be patient to realize the value in this stock.
SEE: Can Business Evolve in A Green World?
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At the time of writing, Stephen Simpson did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.