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Investment impresario Warren Buffett has taken a fancy to grain storage bins, a strong vote of confidence in the business. (Getty Images)
Investment impresario Warren Buffett has taken a fancy to grain storage bins, a strong vote of confidence in the business. (Getty Images)

AGRICULTURE

A bin full of reasons to pay heed to Vicwest Add to ...

Shareholders of grain bin supplier Vicwest Inc. should fasten their seat belts: extremely fast money making lies ahead, according to financial advisory firm Altacorp Capital.

Altacorp recently initiated coverage on Vicwest, saying it expects improving fortunes in the farm sector and a rebound in building construction to cause the company’s earnings per share to soar. The 53 cents a share Vicwest earned last year will more than triple to $1.62 in 2014, Altacorp contends.

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Any time a company is expected to have such intense profit growth, while paying a 5-per-cent dividend to boot, investors should take notice.

“Vicwest is set up to benefit from strong macro fundamentals,” Altacorp said in its report on the company. “Increased leverage to agriculture should drive growth.”

The firm has set a target price on Vicwest’s stock of $15 a share, up from recent trading OF around $12.

Although Vicwest may not be a household name among urban dwellers, it’s a big player in Canada’s farm sector. It has a commanding 60-per-cent market share – through its Westeel brand – in the ubiquitous metal bins used by farmers to store freshly harvested grains and fertilizers. The company is also trying to develop a niche market for bins to store liquids used in natural gas fracking, a booming business. Vicwest’s second line of work is in metal siding, roofing and insulated panels for commercial, agricultural and industrial buildings.

Investment impresario Warren Buffett has taken a fancy to grain storage bins, a strong vote of confidence in the business. His Berkshire Hathaway controls CTB Inc., one of the largest makers of the bins in the United States.

The Street is generally upbeat on Vicwest. According to Bloomberg, analysts have seven “buys,” one “hold,” and one “sell” rating on the stock.

Although higher farm incomes are putting wind into Vicwest’s sails, the company has additional upside as a potential takeout candidate.

The shares remain depressed compared with previous highs of around $19, suggesting an acquirer may view them as a bargain. The shares took a tumble late last year after the company, spooked by the uncertain economy, cut its quarterly dividend to the current 15 cents, from 27 cents, but conditions have improved this year.

Vicwest’s two business lines operate as stand-alone units that would be easily separable by an acquirer interested in only one of them.

The grain storage bins are the company’s crown jewel, and they’d find strong bidding interest. Last year, AGCO, a U.S. farm implements firm, bought privately held grain storage company GSI Holdings for about eight times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), considered a rich multiple.

“Certainly, it may make sense that the parts are worth more than the whole,” says Stephen Takacsy, portfolio manager at Lester Asset Management, which counts Vicwest among its top holdings.

He says the agricultural operations would make a good fit with Ag Growth International, another Canadian farm equipment supplier, while the building side would be a nice add-on for Canam Group.

Mr. Takacsy notes that Vicwest offers exposure to the agricultural sector through a manufactured product that doesn’t experience wild price swings. Fertilizer companies such as Potash Corp. can face big price drops for their products when the market becomes oversupplied.

“It’s clear to us that right now there is going to be excess capacity in the potash space,” he says. “We don’t want to be exposed to that kind of volatility.”

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