Pacific Ethanol (NASDAQ: PEIX) and Green Plains (NASDAQ:GPRE) are both small-cap ethanol fuels companies, but which is the better stock? We will contrast the two companies based on the strength of their institutional ownership, analyst recommendations, risk, earnings, dividends, valuation and profitability.

Earnings and Valuation

This table compares Pacific Ethanol and Green Plains’ revenue, earnings per share and valuation.

Gross Revenue Price/Sales Ratio NetIncome Earnings Per Share Price/Earnings Ratio
Pacific Ethanol $1.62 billion 0.12 $1.41 million ($0.23) -18.91
Green Plains $3.41 billion 0.20 $10.66 million $0.65 25.15

Green Plains has higher revenue and earnings than Pacific Ethanol. Pacific Ethanol is trading at a lower price-to-earnings ratio than Green Plains, indicating that it is currently the more affordable of the two stocks.

Dividends

Green Plains pays an annual dividend of $0.48 per share and has a dividend yield of 2.9%. Pacific Ethanol does not pay a dividend. Green Plains pays out 73.8% of its earnings in the form of a dividend.

Profitability

This table compares Pacific Ethanol and Green Plains’ net margins, return on equity and return on assets.

Net Margins Return on Equity Return on Assets
Pacific Ethanol -0.51% -2.13% -1.23%
Green Plains 0.92% -0.88% -0.35%

Volatility and Risk

Pacific Ethanol has a beta of 2.13, suggesting that its stock price is 113% more volatile than the S&P 500. Comparatively, Green Plains has a beta of 1.57, suggesting that its stock price is 57% more volatile than the S&P 500.

Institutional and Insider Ownership

79.7% of Pacific Ethanol shares are owned by institutional investors. 3.9% of Pacific Ethanol shares are owned by insiders. Comparatively, 6.4% of Green Plains shares are owned by insiders. Strong institutional ownership is an indication that endowments, large money managers and hedge funds believe a stock is poised for long-term growth.

Analyst Recommendations

This is a breakdown of current ratings for Pacific Ethanol and Green Plains, as reported by MarketBeat.

Sell Ratings Hold Ratings Buy Ratings Strong Buy Ratings Rating Score
Pacific Ethanol 0 0 3 0 3.00
Green Plains 0 0 6 0 3.00

Pacific Ethanol presently has a consensus target price of $13.00, suggesting a potential upside of 198.85%. Green Plains has a consensus target price of $25.33, suggesting a potential upside of 54.94%. Given Pacific Ethanol’s higher probable upside, analysts clearly believe Pacific Ethanol is more favorable than Green Plains.

Summary

Green Plains beats Pacific Ethanol on 10 of the 14 factors compared between the two stocks.

About Pacific Ethanol

Pacific Ethanol, Inc. (Pacific Ethanol) is a marketer and producer of low-carbon renewable fuels in the Western United States. Pacific Ethanol markets all the ethanol produced by four ethanol production facilities located in California, Idaho and Oregon, or the Pacific Ethanol Plants, all the ethanol produced by three other ethanol producers in the Western United States and ethanol purchased from other third-party suppliers throughout the United States. It also markets ethanol co-products, including wet distiller’s grains and syrup (WDG), for the Pacific Ethanol Plants. Its 83% ownership interest in New PE Holdco LLC, the owner of each of the plant holding companies, that collectively own the Pacific Ethanol Plants. Its ethanol customers are integrated oil companies and gasoline marketers who blend ethanol into gasoline. Effective September 02, 2014, Pacific Ethanol Inc raised its interest to 96% from 91%, by acquiring a 5% interest, in PE Op Co.

About Green Plains

Green Plains Inc. is an ethanol producer. The Company owns and operates assets throughout the ethanol value chain, including upstream, with grain handling and storage through its ethanol production facilities, and downstream, with marketing and distribution services. It operates through four segments: Ethanol Production, Agribusiness and Energy Services, Food and Food Ingredients, and Partnership. The ethanol production segment includes production of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil. The agribusiness and energy services segment includes grain procurement. The food and food ingredients segment includes a cattle feedlot operation. The Company’s master limited partnership, Green Plains Partners LP (the partnership), provides fuel storage and transportation services by owning, operating, developing and acquiring ethanol and fuel storage tanks, terminals, transportation assets and other related assets and businesses.

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