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I will be keeping an eye on Cubic for a future re-recommendation.
Cubic Corporation is a government contracting firm with three business segments. Mission Support Services (MSS, 38% of sales, 19% of operating income) provides military training services, organizes and implements mission simulations, and provides fields operations and maintenance. MSS can be thought of as the "service arm" of Cubic's defense offerings. The "product arm" is Cubic Defense Systems (CDS, 29% of sales, 29% of operating income). CDS provides virtual training system simulators, instrumentation for fighter aircraft and armored vehicles, and laser-based tactical and communications devices. The third segment is Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS, 30% of sales, 52% profits), which develops, implements, and operates fare collection systems for public transit systems around the world, from issuing fare cards to installing gates and computerized tracking systems. About 58% of sales are to the U.S. government, with the bulk of remaining sales coming from state or foreign governments.
The transportation division is the most attractive from a growth standpoint. At the end of Q3 2010, CTS backlog grew 42%, while backlog at MSS and CDS was down 10% and 7%, respectively. In January, Cubic won a $220 million contract to expand and operate Vancouver's mass transit ticketing system. Mass transit expansion is expected in London for the 2012 Olympics, and the company is pursuing deals in Germany and India. Cubic has increasingly won outsourcing deals to supply operations and maintenance to installed fare systems, a great source of recurring revenue. More deals like this are likely in the future. MSS and CDS revenues are historically lumpy, although Cubic's training and simulation offerings are well-suited to the evolving nature of a more nimble military. The company's backlog and recent strength in CTS should bode well over our one-year holding period.
Cubic's business has excellent built-in moat factors. Defense contracting by nature has a lot of inertia, and Cubic has over 30 years of experience. Additionally, its offerings are well-suited to the evolving priorities of the Defense Department. The mass transit business is even more attractive. Cubic is by far the largest supplier of these systems worldwide. The company services over 40 major metropolitan markets, including London, the largest mass transit system in the world. This track record gives Cubic an immediate leg-up in winning new contracts. Once these systems are in place, there are very high switching costs involved in moving to a competitor's offering - particularly in a regional setup where multiple forms of transportation (rail, bus, ferry, etc.) are tied into a single system. Management continues to work towards winning operational contracts (Cubic manages the fare system), with very predictable recurring revenues on top of design and installation payments.
Cubic earns 58% of revenues from the U.S. government, and a significant portion of the remainder from state and local governments. With a clear political focus right now on cost control, Cubic faces the risk of some of its defense contracts getting cut. This has been evident in MSS over the past year, and will probably continue to weigh on sales and backlog. 71% of sales stem from fixed-price contracts, which face the risk of cost overruns. Mass transit contracts are rare and as such are highly competitive. This can limit initial profitability and makes the event risk of missing a big contract significant.
93 year old Walter Zable has held all the major titles (CEO, Chairman, President) for almost 50 years, and maintains 40% ownership of the company. The principal officers of the company are experienced and long-tenured, with about a decade with the company on average. Results have been good with this group. Cubic does not use restricted stock or options to pay employees, which can be seen in a perfectly flat share count for many years. While I think this team is solid, there are a couple of concerns. Zable's age and considerable holdings could lead to heavy insider sales, bringing the stock price down. Also, the board of directors is quite old, with all 9 over 60 and 4 that are 70 or older. This could cause significant turnover in the near future.
Cubic is in good financial health. Cash on the balance sheet totals $339 million, vs. just over $16 million in total debt. The company has a long track record of outstanding free cash flow creation, with cash averaging 130% of operating earnings over the past 5 years. For comparison, most firms come in at around 70-75%, meaning Cubic generates very high quality earnings. Operating margins have been on a steady rise for 5 consecutive years, currently sitting just over 8%. The firm pays a small dividend that yields about 0.5% at current share prices. The dividend has been static for many years, but has room to rise.
Cubic is a small, well-run provider of defense, security, and transportation systems. The security and transportation units, in particular, play into evolving government priorities. Increasing urbanization and traffic to energy efficiency and intermodal mass transit, make Cubic's transportation fare offerings a strong long-term growth catalyst. Anti-terrorism and intelligence efforts drive demand for security services. Cubic does face risk from government spending cuts, with over 95% of sales from governments. This makes future growth hard to predict, and investors should leave a large margin of safety to the $59 sell early target.
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Steve does not own CUB.
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