“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 be able to make an argument for the company to grow because of one or two specific business trends instead of relying on overall economic growth to provide a tailwind, or relying on management to continue to acquire and profitably “right-size” and modernize more businesses. So if you look over their businesses and expect better-than-the-economy growth in their vending machines, or in their fluid control business, perhaps that will enable them to stand out from the industrial crowd.

The numbers look, well, the word “fine” comes to mind — they trade at a bit of a premium to the broader industrial group but at a discount to some of the better-known industrial conglomerates like those I mentioned above, with a forward PE of about 13 (trailing PE of about 17). Growth in the neighborhood of 8-10% is expected for their earnings, giving them a PEG ratio of about 1.6. Not a drop-dead bargain, but reasonable. They don’t have any net debt to speak of, so the balance sheet looks just lovely and they could probably get some growth just by levering up for acquisitions.

And they do have a record of dividend growth, though it’s not a spotless one — they’ve raised the dividend several times in the last five years, but they don’t reliably raise it every single year, the current yield is a bit under 2%, about par for the course in their segment.

And as I said, I don’t know them well at all — looks like Steve Christ likes them enough to recommend them for his Wealth Advisory, and I don’t see anything shockingly speculative or frightening in the quick Gumshoe look at their books, but I’d be delighted to hear what you think … any wisdom to share on Crane? Love it? Hate it? Let us know with a comment below.

We also want to know if you’re a fan of Steve Christ … if you’ve subscribed to The Wealth Advisory and wish to share your opinion, there’s a little slot at Stock Gumshoe Reviews just waiting for your thoughts — click here to let us know whether the newsletter’s worth it.



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June 22, 2011 5:25 pm
June 22, 2011 5:27 pm

The US is already sliding downhill, and looks to be nearing a slippery section. I would have no interest in investing here at this time.

June 22, 2011 7:03 pm

Today's teaser was not so hard to crack. Just google the sentence from the tease – "‘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." and the first hit is a Crane report.

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June 23, 2011 7:49 am

hi sg
just wanted to say thank you for what you do. i haven't commented in quite some time but i look forward to you email each day.

June 23, 2011 9:38 am

Oil companys flock to kurdistan

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June 23, 2011 3:58 pm