Industrial Machinery

  • 03 Aug
    Why CAT’s 20% drop could be a value trap

    Why CAT’s 20% drop could be a value trap

    When you put a big part of your investing focus on bargains, emphasizing value-based fundamental analysis to determine whether a stock is worth your time and money, you inevitably end up filtering through a lot of different stocks, but cast most aside. I think that is useful, because being more selective helps you narrow the universe of stocks you’re paying attention to at any given time. The problem, however is that sometimes the metrics a value investor learns to rely on can give you a false sense of whether a stock really fits a good description of a good value. That can lead you to make an investment in a stock that might be down from a recent high because it looks like it’s available now at an attractive price compared to where it was; but in reality it’s a bit like trying to catch a falling knife – the only real way to avoid getting cut is to get out of the way and let the knife fall to the floor. These kinds of situations are also called value traps, because they provide numbers that lure less careful investors in and motivate them to make an investment at some of the most dangerous times possible.

    I think Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) is actually one of those traps right now. My opinion differs from most other analysts and “experts” out there, who point to the company’s solid earnings growth over the last year, and the stock’s decline in price since January of this year of more than 20% as reasons that investors should be treating the stock as a great value opportunity right now. They’ll also point to a popular valuation metric, a stock’s P/E ratio, as a clear indication that the stock is undervalued and something you should be paying attention to right now. I’ll admit that at first blush, I thought the stock might be a good opportunity, too; but the more I drilled down to really look at some of the other data points that are important to me, the more concerned I got.

    Another risk element that investors seem to be trying to shrug aside right now when it comes to stocks like CAT is the fact that while the U.S. seems to have found some sense of resolution – or at least a path to it – in trade with the European Union, the same can’t be said of discussions with China. Today, on top of existing tariffs that already amount to more than $34 billion against its single largest trading partner, President Trump proposed another $200 billion in new tariffs, prompting what seems like the customary Chinese response to retaliate in kind. The market’s reaction was pretty ho-hum; could it mean the investors are beginning to accept trade tension as a normal state of affairs? If they are, then I think it means they are becoming desensitized to that risk, and that is a troubling indication all by itself.

    Multinational stocks, and especially those with major operations in China, remain at risk if trade tensions continue as they are, or escalate even further. And let’s not forget that while the E.U. have, for now at least, agreed to hold off on further tariffs against each other and work toward compromise, it doesn’t mean that situation has been resolved. CAT is one of the companies that I think could be the most dramatically affected. That affect may not be showing up in earnings reports or sales numbers yet; but the risk that it will increases more and more with every week, month, and quarter that continues with trade affairs as they are. To my way of thinking, that puts something of a jaundiced eye on any currently glowing numbers. Just about every analyst report I’ve been able to find on CAT forecasts stable to growing revenues along with continued earnings growth for the foreseeable future, and under most circumstances I think that should be a good thing; but the thing that is setting off warning bells for me is that none of the reports I have found discuss trade or tariffs as risk factors.

    Fundamental and Value Profile

    Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) is a manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. The Company operates through segments, including Construction Industries, which is engaged in supporting customers using machinery in infrastructure, forestry and building construction; Resource Industries, which is engaged in supporting customers using machinery in mining, quarry, waste and material handling applications; Energy & Transportation, which supports customers in oil and gas, power generation, marine, rail and industrial applications, including Cat machines; Financial Products segment, which provides financing and related services, and All Other operating segments, which includes activities, such as product management and development, and manufacturing of filters and fluids, undercarriage, tires and rims, ground engaging tools, fluid transfer products, and sealing and connecting components for Cat products. CAT has a market cap of $82.5 billion.

    • Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings grew by almost 100%, while sales growth was almost 24%. Growing earnings faster than sales is hard to do, and generally not sustainable in the long-term; however it is also a positive mark of management’s ability to maximize their business operations. Net Income as a percentage of Revenues also improved from about 6% for the trailing twelve months to more than 12% in the most recent quarter.
    • Free Cash Flow: CAT’s free cash flow over the last twelve months is more than $3.7 billion. Cash and liquid assets are also more than $7.8 billion, which does give the company quite a bit of financial flexibility; however these numbers are offset in my analysis by the stock’s very high debt to equity ratio
    • Debt to Equity: CAT has a debt-to-equity ratio of 1.59. Their long-term is more than $23.5 billion and marks CAT as one of the most highly leveraged companies in the Heavy Machinery industry.
    • Dividend: CAT currently pays an annual dividend of $3.44 per share, which translates to an annual yield of 2.49% at the stock’s current price.
    • Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but one of the simplest methods that I like uses the stock’s Book Value, which for CAT is $24.99 per share. At the stock’s current price, that puts the Price/Book ratio at 5.52, versus a historical average of 3.62. The historical average puts the stock’s “fair value” a little above $90 per share – more than 34% below the stock’s current price. Some analysts like to point out that the stock is trading about 32% below its historical Price/Earnings ratio as an indication the stock is undervalued, but I view Book Value, and the Price/Book ratio as a better measurement and more indicative of a company’s intrinsic value.

    Technical Profile

    Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.


    • Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The diagonal red line traces the stock’s upward trend until January of this year and provides the reference for calculating the Fibonacci retracement levels indicated by the horizontal red lines on the right side of the chart. The stock’s decline from late January’s high at around $173 puts the stock in a clear, intermediate-term downward trend, with the stock trading near to the lowest point of that trend around $135 per share. The stock is hovering around a major support point, marked by the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement line, and if that line holds, it could give the stock some momentum to start pushing higher to reclaim its highs from earlier in the year. On the other hand, a drop below $135 would mark a clear break through support that would give the stock room to drop as far as the 88.6% retracement line around $120 in fairly short order. That’s more than $15 of near-term risk if support is broken, and about $18 of legitimate risk right now. Even if the stock does rally from that support point, it should find major resistance in the $150 range, where the 38.2% retracement line sits, meaning that a bullish investor stands to make about $12 per share if he’s right; but he could lose $18 per share if he’s wrong. That’s easy math that should make anybody hesitate.
    • Near-term Keys: If you’re looking for a good reward: risk trade opportunity for CAT, watch to see if the stock pushes below support around $135. If it does, there could be a very good opportunity to short the stock or use put options, with a target price around $120, and a stop loss a little above $136 per share. That’s a set up that offers $15 of reward, against only a couple of dollars per share of risk.

  • 06 Jun
    PH is a very interesting value play

    PH is a very interesting value play

    Finding good investment opportunities can be a pretty hard thing to do, no matter how much knowledge or experience you have in the market. Part of the problem, I think comes from the nature of the (social) media-driven, instant-information society we live in today. If you pay attention to media news outlets for market information, you’ll usually find that a lot of what gets talked about doesn’t change a whole lot from one day to the next. Politics, monetary policy and interest rates are three primary themes from which the talking heads never really seem to move very far afield.

    One of the methods that I have learned is useful as a tool to stay abreast of current market events and to identify pockets of opportunity is called sector analysis. That might sound pretty complicated, but it really just means taking time to pay attention to the different industries that make up our economy. As business flows back and forth from one economic segment to another, you can begin to see specific industries rise into and fall out of favor in the stock market. That ebb and flow creates opportunities within the broader scope of overall market movement to pick industries, and therefore stocks that might be trading at discounted levels but that have a reasonable basis to be trading higher.

    The last day or so has given me an opportunity to go through my sector analysis, and I wasn’t really all that surprised to see a few sectors, like Consumer Staples, Real Estate, Financials and Industrials lagging the market. It’s true that since the broad market hit a new all-time high in late January, most sectors are down, or only marginally higher for the year. However, these three sectors have stood out from the crowd. The reasons for that are interesting, and can provide some good insight about where the greatest risks, and best opportunities in these areas are.

    The Real Estate and Financial sectors are both being weighed down by the prospect of higher interest rates. While the Fed has generally maintained the posture and attitude towards rates that it has been telegraphing to the market for some time now, there is still speculation that the economy could start heating up more than expected and force the Fed to accelerate the timing and size of rate increases moving forward. I also believe that Real Estate, which has generally seen big gains in property values over the last year nationwide, is starting to reflect some investor uncertainty. At what point does the strength in the economy translate to an overbuilt housing market that will force property values to drop? At what point does the surge in property values reach a tipping point, where average Americans looking to buy a home simply can’t afford it? To what extent will higher interest rates translate to higher mortgage costs that frustrate and stymie home buyers? I think Real Estate right now is acting as an early indicator of much broader economic uncertainty and concerns that have yet to be fully realized or refuted.

    Consumer Staples companies include well-known and long-established names like General Mills (GIS), Kraft-Heinz (KHC), and Campbell Soup (CPB). This is a sector that a lot of analysts, myself included, like to think of as a defensive segment of the market; it generally performs well when the market is showing signs of strength, and is usually less sensitive in nature than other sectors, whose cyclic nature leaves them vulnerable to broader economic weakness. If there are signs of economic uncertainty starting to show, defensive stocks like those in this industry should hold up pretty well. That hasn’t been the case for the last few months, as most of names you and I think of immediately when we think about things grocery shopping have been under pressure by shifting consumer trends away from processed and packaged foods to generally healthier, more organic alternatives. This is a trend that I’m not sure is done playing itself out, despite the fact that many of the companies in this sector have terrific balance sheets and overall fundamental strength.

    Industrials have been showing some very attractive earnings growth, fueled in part by the Tax Reform Act from December of last year, but for the last couple of months have been under pressure by the looming threat of a trade war that is starting to shows signs of increased costs on a lot of basic materials besides the steel and aluminum imports that recently imposed tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union targeted. Trade tensions with these countries and with China are still playing themselves out, and so making a play in this space could be risky. I think it’s useful to remember that tariffs on imports, while deemed by market analysts and political wags as bad, misguided policy, have also been applauded by a lot of American companies as necessary steps to assure a level playing field on a global scale. I think the opportunities in this sector lie in targeting industries that tariffs are designed to protect, and among those are companies that work in aerospace and defense. PH is a great example of that, with a very solid fundamental profile, and a depressed market price that offers a nice opportunity if you’re willing to take a long-term view.

    Fundamental and Value Profile

    Parker-Hannifin Corporation (PH) is a manufacturer of motion and control technologies and systems, providing precision engineered solutions for a range of mobile, industrial and aerospace markets. The Company operates through segments: Diversified Industrial and Aerospace Systems. The Diversified Industrial Segment is an aggregation of several business units, which manufacture motion-control and fluid power system components for builders and users of various types of manufacturing, packaging, processing, transportation, agricultural, construction, and military vehicles and equipment. The Diversified Industrial Segment consists of Automation Group, Engineered Materials Group, Filtration Group, Fluid Connectors Group, Hydraulics Group and Instrumentation Group. The Aerospace Systems Segment produces hydraulic, fuel, pneumatic and electro-mechanical systems and components, which are utilized on domestic commercial, military and general aviation aircrafts. PH has a current market cap of $23 billion.

    • Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings increased by more than 30, while sales grew a little over 20%. It’s hard for a company to grow earnings faster than sales, and generally not sustainable over time. Initially, however it is a good sign that management is doing a good job of maximizing their business operations.
    • Free Cash Flow: Free Cash Flow has shown strong improvement dating back to the fourth quarter of 2015, when the company reversed a two-year trend of negative Free Cash Flow growth. As of their last earnings report, PH’s Free Cash Flow was more than $1.2 billion.
    • Debt to Equity: the company’s debt to equity ratio is .82, a number that is generally manageable. Their debt has also declined by a little more than 10% over the past year.
    • Dividend: PH pays an annual dividend of $3.04 per share, which translates to an annual yield of 1.76% at the stock’s current price.
    • Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but one of the simplest methods uses the stock’s Book Value, which for PH is $44.20 per share. At the stock’s current price, that translates to a Price/Book Ratio of 3.9. I usually like to see this ratio closer to 1, or even better, below that level, but higher ratios in certain industries aren’t uncommon. The Machinery industry’s average is 5.13, putting PH quite a bit below its counterparts. The stock’s historical Price/Book Ratio is 3.2, which is below its current level and could be a sign the stock is fairly valued right now. The stock would have to move about 24% higher to reach par with its industry average, however, which translates to a long-term target price above $210 per share.

    Technical Profile

    Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.

    • Current Price Action: Over the last week or so, the stock has been dropping from a pivot high at around $184 per share (which I’ve marked B on the chart). The stock does appear to be showing some signs of stabilization over the last few days between $170 and its current price, which I’ve marked with a C on the chart.
    • Trends: I’ve highlighted the stock’s intermediate-term downward trend, which dates back to its high near $213 in mid-January with the red diagonal line. The stock’s recent decline has been following that line, meaning that the trend is acting as resistance for the stock’s price right now. The dotted green line on the chart traces the intermediate trend’s low point at about $161 along with the stock’s recent stabilization around $170 per share. If the stock’s current support holds, the difference between the short-term upward trend line and the intermediate-term downward trend line will continue to decrease. You think of that like the tightening compression of a coiled spring; the longer that lasts, the more likely there will be a significant move, or release of tension out of that range. If it breaks higher, the stock should see little near-term resistance until it reaches about $184 per share. In the longer-term, and given the stock’s underlying fundamental strength, I think there is a good basis to suggest the stock could revisit the highs it approached at the beginning of the year.
    • Near-term Keys: Watch the stock’s movement carefully over the next few days. A break above $175 would likely mark a reversal the downward trend and could mark a good bullish trade, either by buying the stock or working with call options. On the other hand, a break below $170 could offer an attractive bearish trade, either by shorting the stock or using put options.