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Ramaco aims to combine 'aggressive growth' in met coal with shareholder return

After a difficult fourth quarter, Ramaco Resources Inc. is charging ahead with an "aggressive growth model" aimed at doubling the size of the metallurgical coal-focused producer in the next three to four years.

Unlike many established publicly traded coal names in the U.S., the relatively new producer is focused on growing its production footprint. Like many of its peers, Ramaco is also exploring ways to kick off shareholder return initiatives that pay off investors in the forms of dividends, company executives said on a March 20 earnings call.

"Ultimately, we anticipate being a coal company that is both growing as well as returning cash to shareholders," said Ramaco Resources' Executive Chairman and CFO Randall Atkins. "We obviously like the conditions in this market and don't see either meaningful new capital or new production entering the U.S. met space anytime soon."

The broader lack of capital investment in new supply across the industry, Ramaco is hoping, will translate into support for recently improved global markets for metallurgical coal. Recent prices indicate that the market "still has legs" well into 2019 and 2020, Atkins said. Ramaco, which has been focusing on developing its metallurgical coal properties, is expected to have its first year of free cash flow this year, he added.

"Our mantra has always been sort of a no debt or relatively low debt operation, and we don't see any reason to discontinue that outlook," Atkins said. "All the things that we're talking about are pretty much organic projects. And we're not talking about any type of large acquisitions."

Ramaco is expecting to produce 2.0 million tons of metallurgical coal in 2019, up 14% from 2018 levels, according to the midpoint of its guidance. The company maintains its longer-term goal of 4.5 million tons annual output, though that will now be achieved differently than originally modeled, the company noted in its earnings report.

The company missed its 2018 coal sales guidance as a result of a silo failure at its Elk Creek preparation plant in the fourth quarter. Ramaco since increased throughput at the operation and is ramping back to full capacity by the second quarter of the year, Atkins said on the call.

Ramaco reported net income of $3.4 million, or 8 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2018.