Visit this year's Top 1000 rankings of Canada's most profitable companies and find more tables, multimedia and analysis in Report on Business's full Top 1000 section. The most comprehensive database of Canadian corporate financial information is available for purchase in spreadsheet format here.
Is the Top 1000 little more than a collection of fusty banks, insurers and resource plays? Are there companies in other industries that have delivered impressive returns to shareholders, yet still offer growth prospects? And can you find them cheap? That's a tall order, especially if you want to find bargains below the traditional value investor's price-to-earnings (P/E) threshold of 20. But good assets are pricey these days, and if you're prepared to venture a little above 20, you'll find some real deals.
P/E ratio*: 19.5
Five-year share price gain: 29.7%
WSP is a highly diverse engineering and environmental consulting firm with 500 offices around the world. Think everything from helping to build skyscrapers and develop mines, to safely demolishing asbestos-laden buildings. The company dates back to two engineering firms founded in Quebec City in 1959, which later grew into Genivar Inc. It cranked into higher gear by buying London-based WSP Group PLC for $442 million in 2012, and New York City-based Parsons Brinckerhoff for $1.2 billion (U.S.) in 2014. Current assignments include the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal and the Atlanta Falcons' new stadium.
P/E ratio: 22.7
Five-year share price gain: 723.1%
Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's a whole lot of disruption going on in media, but even new platforms need content. And if you believe that content has value, DHX boasts that it owns the "world's largest independent library" of kids' and family TV series. That library includes Teletubbies, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Inspector Gadget and the Degrassi franchise. DHX president Steven DeNure says he's figured out how to monetize that content, too—even on YouTube. After a recent slide in DHX's share price, analysts are saying the stock is a bargain—or close to it.
P/E ratio: 13.8
Five-year share price gain: 437.1%
Americans have this wonderful ability to pick themselves up after financial crises and make their economy great again. Hardwoods is a wholesale distributor of lumber, plywood and specialty wood products, much of it flooring, with 33 distribution centres across North America. More than three-quarters of Hardwoods' revenue comes from the United States, where housing starts have been climbing steadily since the 2008 financial crisis, yet are still well below historical highs.
North West Co.
P/E ratio: 20.7
Five-year share price gain: 50.6%
The original North West competed against Hudson's Bay Co. in the fur trade starting in the 1780s—sometimes with guns drawn. HBC absorbed its rival in 1821. But in 1987, HBC spun off its northern Canadian operations to an employee consortium, which revived the North West name. The company now has more than 100 food and general merchandise stores across the North, mostly under the Northern banner, and some in Alaska, the U.S. Pacific Territories and the Caribbean. It's an attractive defensive stock—earnings are steady, and there's a beefy 4% dividend yield.
MTY Food Group
P/E ratio: 24.1
Five-year share price gain: 130.3%
Every time you order pad thai at Thai Express or coffee at Country Style, Stanley Ma has reason to smile. The Hong Kong-born chairman and CEO of MTY is Canada's food court king. Starting with Tiki-Ming in Montreal in 1984, he has launched or acquired more than 30 chains and brands, including Cultures, Mr. Souvlaki and Big Smoke Burger. MTY's revenue has doubled to $145 million over five years, and profits have been steady. But future growth depends a lot on whether Ma can expand successfully abroad. In May, he acquired Arizona-based Kahala Brands, which owns Cold Stone Creamery and Blimpie sub shops, for more than $300 million (U.S.) in cash and shares.
P/E ratio: 13.3
Five-year share price gain: 255.5%
Vecima has been making specialized equipment and software for cable and telephone companies for 25 years. Most of its products boost bandwidth for the so-called last mile into customers' homes and offices. The company hasn't grown a lot over the past 10 years—annual revenues have held near $100 million. But it has been efficient and profitable, carries virtually no debt and generates a lot of free cash. It is a rare bird: a steady small-cap tech company.
P/E ratio: 18.5
Five-year share price gain: 243.9%
Loading and unloading ships is one of the oldest and most reliable businesses in Canada. Logistec handles cargo at more than two-dozen ports in Eastern Canada—from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port Colborne, Ontario, and as far north as Deception Bay, Quebec, as well as six U.S ports. Added to the stevedoring is an environmental services division called Sanexen. It has a unique process for lining old water pipes, and Sanexen now provides more than 40% of Logistec's revenue. Combine the two businesses and you get a solid average annual return on common equity of 15.8% over the past five years.
P/E ratio: 19.6
Five-year share price gain: 97.0%
These historic low interest rates can't last. Central banks will hike them soon, and that will cool the housing market and infrastructure spending. The thing is, pointy-headed economists were saying this five years ago. Meanwhile, the North American building boom roars on. And so do Toromont's two main businesses: sales and rentals of heavy construction equipment in Ontario, Newfoundland, Manitoba and eight U.S. states, and CIMCO Refrigeration, which builds and installs large refrigeration systems. Toromont is also getting more efficient—its net profit margin keeps getting fatter.
Pacific Insight Electronics
P/E ratio: 10.2
Five-year share price gain: 63.6%
A lot of the flashiest improvements in vehicles over the past two decades have been in their interiors. Pacific Insight Electronics has carved out a lucrative niche supplying LED lights, gauges and wire harnesses (the doodads that clump wires and connections together) to Ford, General Motors and other automakers. The company employs 1,000 people in three factories in Mexico and in Nelson, Michigan. After the company reported record quarterly revenues and profits in early May, investors jumped in and pushed the share price up 20%. Yet it's still cheap relative to trailing earnings.
P/E ratio: 23.1
Five-year share price gain: 137.9%
Don't worry, Richelieu doesn't run hardware stores itself, and it doesn't compete with goliaths like Home Depot and Lowe's. Richelieu manufactures and sells hundreds of specialty products, such as home and office furniture, lighting systems, and hardware for windows and sliding doors. Its customers include building contractors, window and door manufacturers, and the giant hardware retailers. Richelieu operates 36 distribution centres across Canada, 28 in the United States and two factories in Quebec. Its share price dipped surprisingly little during the 2008 financial crisis and has since quadrupled.