Four stocks to watch in February
Strong progress from Dewhurst in improving markets is reflected in the company's full-year results. The component manufacturer improved revenue by the year to 30 September 2014, after a disappointing 2013. Profit was almost on a par with 2012, Dewhurst's best-ever year.
The company's cash position improved too. It has no debt.
Dewhurst manufactures pushbuttons and related components for lifts, railway carriages and ATMs, as well as bollards and signage for traffic management.
It benefited from a resurgence in local authority spending on lifts – one beneficiary being its CMS Anywhere product, a web-based monitoring system for housing and facilities managers (who are increasingly required to report on lift performance). Sales in its recently
acquired US subsidiaries, which the company has restructured under a single head, have improved too.
Otherwise, Dewhurst focused on improving efficiency and product development in 2014. It launched a redesigned solar-powered bollard, an enhanced security ATM keypad and a remote indicator display that enables facilities managers to provide residents with service updates by texting a screen in their building.
The company reports stable demand but economic uncertainty, and it warns that the strong pound may continue to reduce overseas revenue, which accounts for about 70% of total revenue. Currency fluctuations should even out over the long term, though. Its share price of 465p values the enterprise at £26 million, about six times adjusted profit. The earnings yield is 17%.
The risks are mostly speculative and insufficient to undermine the attractiveness of shares on such a low valuation. Dewhurst is controlled by members of its founding family, which gives its directors the power to operate the company in their own interests rather than those of shareholders in general.
However, payments to plug the defined benefit pension fund deficit will reduce cash flow in coming years, while Dewhurst's mixed results from product and geographical diversification may indicate that, although it has profitable businesses, it's not always successful in growing new enterprises.
Balancing those concerns is Dewhurst's decades-long record of profitable growth and financial prudence, which indicates that the company's management has been a good steward that has enriched all shareholders, and that Dewhurst's position in established niches, particularly lift pushbutons, is entrenched.
Progress may not always be smooth, but in the long term, Dewhurst should be a good investment.
ELECTRONIC DATA PROCESSING
Software company Electronic Data Processing is struggling to raise revenue in a competitive market. It's still profitable, though, and its shares may turn out to be cheap if it can gain more customers. EDP's revenue in the first half of the financial year was hit by delayed customer orders, and the company failed to make good in the second half. Overall, revenue fell by 5% in the year to 30 September 2014 and adjusted profit fell by 41%. EDP has no debt, but its cash surplus also fell slightly.
The company is not attracting enough new customers, and it's losing some as it encourages them to migrate from older versions of its soft ware, installed locally in customers' businesses, to modern hosted services, which now account for just over 50% of revenue. Hosted software is served over the internet from EDP's hosting centre in Milton Keynes.
EDP says next year will be challenging too, due to continuing price competition and the loss of a major customer after the client 0 bought a competitor software company and subsequently migrated to its newly acquired software. EDP appears to be relying on cost savings to make up for lost business, while still investing heavily to remain competitive.
Its principal products are Quantum VS – specialised business software for distributors – and Vecta general sales and customer relationship management software.
The company has to work hard to stand still, which has resulted in a gradual erosion of annual revenue over the past decade. EDP's management thinks it has a strong business based on long-term software contracts lasting for up to five years and hosted services that provide customers with most of their IT requirements, but EDP's difficulty in growing turnover suggests competitors may be stronger.
A share price of 69p values the enterprise at just over £5 million, about 12 times adjusted profit. The earnings yield is 8%. Given that EDP is thinly traded and that buying shares is therefore likely to be expensive, that price may not represent good value.
However, the company has been trying to dispose of two surplus properties it owns.
Should it succeed, reduced costs and increased cash would change EDP's valuation substantially, putting it on an earnings yield of about 12-15%. That makes EDP something to think about – especially as it has rock-solid finances already – but only if the company can sell more hosting agreements.
Treatt shook off something of a curse in its full-year results published in December. It increased profits and also raised revenue, which had been flat for three years. Treatt processes and trades essential oils, flavourings and fragrances distilled from plants and used in the production of food, drinks and products such as air fresheners.
Treatt says the increase in revenue is the result of selling more value-added products. It has added value to its products by, for example, pairing its vegetable distillates with herbal ingredients such as basil, sage and ginger, to add a twist or kick to its vegetable drinks. It has also been developing products that combine well with new natural sweeteners such as Stevia.
Rising turnover might indicate that the 125-year-old ingredients trader is both operating more efficiently and successfully developing more valuable flavours and fragrances, both part of a sustainable growth strategy launched in 2012.
In the year to September 2014, Treatt increased revenue by 7% and adjusted profit by 9%. The company's modest level of debt rose, though, as it stocked up on ingredients to guard against shortages caused by political, economic or weather-related factors.
It will probably make good on its promise to grow profitably by focusing on value-added products as well as the commodities it trades, but a share price of 140p values the enterprise at £84 million, about 13 times adjusted earnings. The earnings yield is 7%.
Like an increasing number of strong, well-managed companies tracked in the Watchlist, Treatt is not obviously cheap, but it's not glaringly expensive either.
After a decade of marginal results, tiny Titon has finally produced a definitive full-year profit.
Revenue increased by 22% and adjusted profit increased by 595% – from a very low level – due to growth at Titon's joint ventures in South Korea, where the company manufactures and distributes ventilation products. Return on capital was 14%, the highest level of profitability recorded by the company since 2003.
Meanwhile, more benign market conditions in the UK – its larger market, where it also manufactures window and door hard- ware – staved off the prospect of losses earlier in the year.
In the UK, Titon benefited from demand from private housebuilders – particularly for window and door furniture, which earned 84% of total revenue in the previous year – and from government-funded social housing projects making use of its mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) systems. Demand from social housing developers is likely to tail off, though, as funding falls away.
In addition, Titon expects growth to slow in South Korea, where competition is intensifying. Prospects for European exports depend on faltering European economies, although the company hopes to increase MVHR sales in continental Europe.
A share price of 68p values the enterprise at just over £5 million, about five times adjusted profit. The earnings yield of 19% is incredibly tempting. However, the company has struggled for profits in the past, and recomputing the earnings yield based on average profitability gives just 8%, which is perhaps a fairer indication of future returns from the business, considering the challenges Titon faces in maintaining its profitability.
This feature was written for our sister publication Money Observer
The general term for the rate of income from an investment expressed as an annual percentage and based on its current market value. For example, if a corporate bond or gilt originally sold at £100 par value with a coupon of 10% is bought for £100 then the coupon and the yield are the same at 10%, or £10. But if an investor buys the bond for £125, its coupon is still 10% (or £10) and the investor receives £10 but as the investor bought the bond for £125 (not £100) the yield on the investment is 8%.
A catch-all phrase that can range from assessing the price of a property or vehicle before offering it for sale or the net worth of assets in an investment portfolio to the prices of shares on a stock exchange.
Defined benefit pension
Often referred to as a “final salary” pension, benefits paid in retirement are known in advance and are “defined” when the employee joins the scheme. Benefits are based on the employee’s salary history and length of service rather than on investment returns. The risk is with the employer because, as long as the employee contributes a fixed percentage of salary every month, all costs of meeting the defined benefits are the responsibility of the employer. (See also Final Salary).
A term applied to raw materials (gold, oil) and foodstuffs (wheat, pork bellies) traded on exchanges throughout the world. Since no one really wants to transport all those heavy materials, what is actually traded are commodities futures contracts or options. These are agreements to buy or sell at an agreed price on a specific date. Because commodity prices are volatile, investing in futures is certainly not for the casual investor.