“Fifteen Decades of Pipes, Planes and Profits” (Steve Christ)

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, June 22, 2011

I haven’t looked at a teaser ad from Steve Christ in quite a while, and this one sounds more solid and compelling than the last one of his that graced our pages, so I thought I’d give it a quick Gumshoe once-over for you.

Christ’s newsletter is called The Wealth Advisory, and he says he tries to follow a value investing strategy and reduce risk — that doesn’t mean he hasn’t made some risky bets on stocks that most folks would consider very speculative growth ideas, including a tease that Geron would be taken over for huge gains back in late 2009 and a pitch for Tengion’s limb-regenerating technology earlier this year. Both of those picks disappointed, at least so far, but this pick is clearly an entirely different sort of stock … so let’s take a look at what he’s teasing, shall we?

We begin, as we so often do, with the story of the founding of the company:

“… he was just a 23-year-old green horn fresh from the suburbs of New Jersey.

“By the time of his death, he would have helped to create the skyscraper boom of America’s third largest city…

“And little did he know that – 99 years after his death – his death, his company would be one of the largest vending machine manufacturers in the world.

“And they’d even help America explore the surface of Mars.

“Since 1855 this company has gone through as many name changes as “Family Feud” has hosts.

“But one thing hasn’t changed — their willingness to push technological boundaries and reap the rewards that come with it.”

So that’s the background — this is an old company, with a pretty varied line of businesses if they’ve both helped to build skyscrapers and sell impulse Snickers bars. And apparently they’ve continued to evolve — we hear about a couple of the other interesting things they’ve worked on:

“They were selected to build electronic components for the Mars Rover ‘because of their proven reliability and exceptional value.’

“They own the world’s leading manufacturer of retail automated coin dispensing equipment, have a successful line of fiberglass-reinforced plastic products, and provide pipe valves for the nuclear power industry…

“They even supply electronics to every branch of the U.S. military — and to many others across the world.”

So … sounds like one of our lovely industrial conglomerates, no? It’s a long list, companies like Ingersoll Rand (IR), Danaher (DHR), Dover (DOV), Illinois Tool Works (ITW), well, you get the idea… that list could go on for a while. It’s not one of those firms, though, it’s someone else.

Some more specific clues?

“…this company was able to post a 45% gain since the first quarter of 2011.”

Let’s assume that’s a typo, shall we? I imagine he meant since the first quarter of 2010, since the second quarter of 2011 isn’t quite over yet, let alone reported.

And to get the good news about the company’s recent results, we even get a helpful quote:

“The company’s current president and CEO is quoted as saying:

‘Sales for 2011 are now expected to increase approximately 10% – 12%, compared to our prior guidance of 7% – 9%, driven by strong core sales growth. Our 2011 earnings guidance is now a range of $3.05 – $3.25 per diluted share, compared to our previous guidance of $2.80 – $3.00 per diluted share, reflecting strengthening revenue and profit growth across all of our segments.'”

So … hoodat?

This is a company I’ve never even glanced at before, Crane (CR)

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They are indeed a long-established industrial conglomerate that has strong positions in several niche markets — their biggest businesses are fluid handling equipment and aerospace, and they also have substantial business in merchandising equipment (that’s the vending machines and cash and coin handling business), composite and engineered materials, and controls. As with many conglomerates, they’ve built up through acquiring other companies over the decades, so some of these businesses consist of dozens of established brands under the Crane umbrella.

And Crane is arguably small (market cap under $2 billion) and targeted enough in their niche business segments that, compared to some of the other conglomerates like Dover ($12 billion) or Danaher ($18 billion), you might actually