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3 technology stocks in the hot industrials sector

posted on April 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm
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Here’s a quiz? Name three technology companies that no one has ever heard of.

Apple (AAPL) is a great technology company. So is Google (GOOG). Cisco Systems (CSCO). Intel (INTC). And I’m sure that everybody would put them at the top of their list.

But how about these names?  Johnson Controls (JCI)? Corning (GLW)? Cummins (CMI)?

Not at the top of your list of tech companies? Not surprising. Johnson Controls makes auto interiors, batteries, and air conditioning equipment. Corning makes glass. Cummins makes diesel engines for big rig trucks.

But even if you don’t think of them as technology companies—and the stock market doesn’t value them like technology companies—that’s exactly what they are. In fact, I’d argue that an engine-maker like Cummins is at least as much of a technology company as Cisco Systems, where the company’s success is built on technology, yes, but also on an industry-leading sales and marketing machine, or Intel, which is one of the world’s great manufacturing companies.

I’ve argued in other places—in my book The Jubak Picks and on my blog JubakPicks.com—that technology is an increasingly critical edge for industrial companies these days. When just about any industrial product is on the verge of being turned into a commodity, technology, the ability to make a product that does more, that does it for less, and that does it better, is the only thing that stands between success and a race-to-the-bottom competition to see who can move production to the lowest cost labor market.

I’ve written about Corning and Johnson Controls before. The former was in my Jubak’s Picks portfolio http://jubakpicks.com/the-jubak-picks/ until January 4, 2010. Johnson Controls is a member of that portfolio now. (See my most recent update on the stock in this post http://jubakpicks.com/2010/04/26/update-johnson-controls-jci-6/ )

So instead of re-plowing that ground let me use Cummins as an example.

I’ve written about part of the Cummins story in my post http://jubakpicks.com/2010/04/20/go-for-the-growth-and-where-to-find-it-at-a-reasonable-price/ . In that post I noted that nobody bought trucks during the Great Recession. Sales of Class 8 trucks, the big rigs, fell to a rate well below the long-term replacement rate and as a result the age of the U.S. big rig fleet is now at a two-decade high. Now with freight volumes rising, truck owners and operators are starting to buy again to update their equipment. Analysts on Wall Street are upping their forecasts and then upping them again. For example, on April 21, Sterne, Agee & Leach increased its production forecast for truck-maker Paccar (PCAR) for 2011 to 220,000 to 240,000 from a prior estimate of 200,000. According to investment bank UBS 45% of trucking companies say they plan to purchase trucks in 2010.

The other part of the story is about technology. Beginning in 2002 the Environmental Protection Agency has been phasing in new emissions regulations for diesel trucks. The rules on particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and other pollutants have been gradually tightened year by year with the final standards going into effect in 2010. New diesel engines in 2010 will produce less than 10% of the emissions of 2001 engines.

The reason for the long phase in of the rules was to allow engine makers to develop the new technologies that can meet these tougher rules. Two technologies have emerged: Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR). Different engine makers have gone with one of the other technology.

SCR injects a fluid of water (67.5%) and urea (32.5%) into the hot exhaust stream from the diesel engine. Using a catalyst called copper zeolite the fluid breaks nitrogen oxides down into nitrogen and water vapor.

EGR re-circulates part of the engine’s exhaust (5% to 30%) though an air-to-water cooler and then back into the engine’s cylinders. That recirculation reduces nitrogen oxide emissions and particulates.

The consensus among engineers and Wall Street analysts who have looked at the two systems is that SCR suffers from a number of perhaps fatal disadvantages. Urea, a major ingredient in fertilizers produced from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide, isn’t available along all truck routes and at all truck stops. Trucks using this system have to be fitted with an onboard tank to hold the urea.

EGR doesn’t require additional tanks or any perhaps hard to find additive. Adding the coolers to the engine does increase engine size and weight, however. And the cost of fuel in an EGR system is higher than the cost of fuel plus UREA in the SCR technology.

What’s of most interest to investors about these two technologies is that two engine makers with big market share have come down on different sides of the technology divide. Cummins is using EGR while Detroit Diesel, owned by Daimler, has opted for SCR. So far at least, it looks like truckers are thinking of voting for Cummins and EGR. According to a survey in the May issue of World Truck Analysis, 40% of truckers said that the post-2010 engine they were most likely to buy was a Cummins engine. Detroit Diesel wound up with 26% of the vote. Volvo came in third with 14%.

Cummins reports earnings on April 27. Look for the company to amplify its recent forecast of a weak first half of 2010 followed by a strong pick-up in engine demand in the fourth quarter of 2010. Cummins also indicated that this growth period won’t be just a spurt but will instead stretch from 2011 into 2014. In 2014 the company expects to see $20 billion in sales. Sales in 2009 were just $10.8 billion.

With the replacement cycle and technology breaking the company’s way that forecast isn’t out of reach.

Full disclosure: I own shares of Johnson Controls in my personal portfolio.

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10 comments

  • ddwi on 26 April 2010

    Cummins currently has over 150,00 engines in operation with SCR-many in Europe, -check their site- and will be using it to meet 2010 US emissions along with EGR. Navistar/International is attempting EGR only, or to a larger %, but I believe they are having technical difficulties. SCR allows engines to be ‘tuned’ to run more efficiently, the increased NoX is then removed by the SCR; with an overall cost reduction- the fuel savings more than pays for the SCR.

  • EdMcGon on 27 April 2010

    The problem with that survey is WHO was polled: truckers.

    An independent trucker planning to buy a new rig will require financing. Unless banks decide to start opening their vaults, that ain’t happening. Even if they do, we have a potential Fed rate increase to consider, making any truck purchases more expensive to finance.

    The more likely truck buyers will be corporate fleets. But they weren’t polled, so we have no idea what they will buy.

    Here’s my two cents of speculation: If a corporate fleet has access to the urea necessary to run the engines along their normal routes, the corporate buyer will get the SCR engine, due to the fuel savings. As more corporate fleets begin using the SCR technology, don’t be surprised if more truck stops begin stocking urea. Of course, that could be years from now.

  • sigli on 27 April 2010

    Cummins also has a 50/50 JV with Westport Innovations (WPTI), Cummins Westport Inc., that produces commercially viable natural gas engines for local and regional haul, garbage trucks, transit buses, etc. The growth rate is pretty good right now. They shipped 2,809 units through 9 months ended Dec. 09 vs. 3,236 through Dec. 08–down 13.2 %, but that’s not that bad considering the economy and lumpy large purchases.

    Paccar and Daimler use them. Volvo recently signed up with WPTI.

    Paccar’s extra insulated trucks with LED lighting, and A/C powered by a 21,000 BTU battery can keep a truck in 95 degree weather cool for up to 10 hours, and they’ve added a heater for the opposite. They claim up to an 8 % increase in fuel economy from not idling when resting.

    Paccar also has a hybrid for smaller hauls, but this looks like a wait and see idea to me.

    The biggest drawback I have with Paccar is railroad competition. I think the N. American truck market will shrink over the years (meaning less sales for Cummins as well). FYI, WPTI is a great idea, but way too speculative for me. They’ve lost money for years and don’t get any revenue from Cummins Westport Inc.

  • ianc on 27 April 2010

    Interesting article, well written and researched. Unfortunately once I looked at Cummings’ chart I saw what looks like a ‘too late’ situation. The stock is up 56% in the last three months – how sustainable can that be?

  • taterbug820 on 27 April 2010

    Make that CMI up 61%. Up 5% this morning in after hrs on their earnings!

  • ianc on 27 April 2010

    Damn! Even more ‘Johnny Come Lately’! ;-)

  • rolfer1 on 27 April 2010

    Jim, I agree with the basic premise, but EGR is neither a new nor an efficient technology; Buffet appears to like rails over trucks; these truck engine stocks have run up nicely and we’re in a part of the earnings season where good earnings no longer lift stocks much (although top-line growth seems still to be a catalyst – AND CMI is up 7% today after announcing a 1.6% increase in revenue…).

    Also, for all stocks, comparisons with Q3 & 4 of 2009 will be much more difficult than the Q1 & 2 comparisons were. CMI may be a decent buy at a much lower price… like $45 to $55 a share, I’ll ad to my watch list.

  • sigli on 27 April 2010

    We still need large trucks despite the railroad advantage. Cummins makes diesel engines–the things that power locomotives.

    Also, Cummins can shield themselves from declining truck volume through superior innovation. Companies like CAT tend to get out of the engine making business when they can get a much better product from Cummins than they can make themselves.

    Technology leaders are like cats with their will to survive. They have a tendency to outperform in good markets and thrive in bad.

  • Yclept on 27 April 2010

    Is there a play in urea production buried under this decision? Some of the new engines are bound to be Detroit Diesel — I would think lower operating cost will be a powerful driver. Maybe the urea for SCR is small compared to agricultural use, in which case is there a play in distribution of urea to a new market?
    Trains are fine for long distance bulk transportation, but virtually useless for final delivery to user. There used to be many spur tracks in the SF Bay area — all the ones that haven’t been torn out are in such a state of disrepair as to be unusable. Final delivery around here is all by truck.

  • Soonerxii on 27 April 2010

    Does anyone have a feel for who the leader in natural gas engines will be? It seems there is quite the push to get the big rigs running on nat gas

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