LED: Looking alot Like Lighting’s Future

Our interest in small cap lighting companies was piqued this week with the announcement April

Photo courtesy of trinamao.en.busytrade.com

Photo courtesy of trinamao.en.busytrade.com

25 that New York-based ForceField Energy (OTCQQB: FNRG) had signed a letter of intent to acquire a 60 percent interest in 1-800 NY Bulbs.

The combination seems to make sense. During its 25 years of existence, Bulbs has more than 8,000 commercial clients, is an authorized dealer and distributor of GE Lighting Products and has projected about $5 million in revenue in 2013, according to the press release announcing the letter of intent. ForceField is focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency and LED (Light Emitting Diode) products.

LED lights are the latest in modern technology and energy efficiency, but have been slow to become the standard in households because of their price, according to Time magazine (http://business.time.com/2013/04/25/light-switch-why-youll-start-using-led-bulbs-this-year/). But the Time report suggests LED prices are coming down. Also, the Energy Independence and Security Act, passed in 2007, requires lightbulbs to become more energy efficient  and has led to the phasing out of standard 100-watt and 75-watt incandescent bulbs, with the 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs to follow.

So the day of the LED light could be near, as could be an intriguing jolt of energy to small cap lighting companies.

FNRG (http://www.forcefieldenergy.com) is a lightly-traded, $87 million market cap, pink sheet company with a 52-week trading range of $2.20-$5.64. It is also involved in transforming waste heat from manufacturing and other sources into electricity. It owns 51 percent of TransPacific Energy Inc. FNRG closed April 26 at $5.35, no change for the day.

Charlotte, NC-based Revolution Lighting Technologies (Nasdaq: RVLT, (http://www.nexxuslighting.com/) designs, manufactures and sells commercial grade LED replacement light bulbs and LED-based signage under the Array Lighting and Lumificient brands (Lumificient Corporation is a subsidiary). It was formerly called Nexxus Lighting and operates mainly in the global commercial, hospitality, institutional, retail and sign markets. RVLT closed April 29 at a 52-week high of $4.01, up 45 cents for the day with a market cap of $140 million. Its 52-week trading range is $0.11-$4.01.

Cincinnati-based LSI Industries (Nasdaq: LYTS, http://www.lsi-industries.com/) is a different take on an LED lighting company. LYTS creates LED video screens and LED specialty lighting for sports stadiums and arenas, digital billboards and entertainment companies. Its 52-week trading range is $5.81-$7.77. It closed April 29 at $7.09, up 18 cents for the day, with a market cap of $170 million.

Solon, OH-based Energy Focus Inc (OTC Pink: EFOI, http://www.energyfocusinc.com/) makes LED lighting products as well as products based fiber optic and other energy-efficient technologies. EFOI focuses on the government and public sector markets, as well as the general commercial and pool markets. Its 52-week trading range is $0.16-$0.40. It closed April 29 at $0.22, up 3 cents for the day, with a market cap of $8.4 million.

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Business-Jet Market Expected to Show ‘Solid’ Growth in Short, Long Term

One business sector that is expected to be experiencing solid growth in both the short and long term is the business-jet market, according to The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2012/10/business-aviation). Honeywell Aerospace recently put out its annual Business Aviation Outlook, a forecast based on surveys of 1,500 business-jet operators worldwide.

According to the survey (and The Economist), “between 680 and 720 new business jets will be sold this year, a ‘single

Photo courtesy of priog.org

digit’ increase over last year.” The survey then predicts will get much bigger over the next 10 years with about 10,000 jets expected to be sold at a total price of $250 billion.

The article notes that the good news for the business-jet industry is not so much a reflection of positive global economic conditions as buyers wanting the various new features offered in newer jets. Honeywell’s report indicates that today’s buyers want jets with more range, more comfort and larger cabins.

Other statistics in the article include regional numbers. A total of 46 percent of the buyers in BRIC countries expect to buy a new jet in the next five  years; the Russian business-jet fleet is expected to expand by 15 percent by 2017; the Indian and Chinese fleets by 18 and 30 percent, respectively. North America continues to lead the business-jet industry by a long shot “because of its massive installed base of jets…the region is expected to account for 53 percent of all sales in the next five years.”

On a related note, Lockheed Martin (LMT) hit a 52-week high Nov. 6, closing at $94.88.

There are a host of small cap stocks that work in the business-jet/aircraft industries. Here are a few randomly chosen companies to look at:

Wood Dale, IL-based AAR Corp. (NYSE: AIR, http://www.aarcorp.com) has a variety of aircraft-related businesses and does a lot of business with the US government. AIR sells and leases used commercial aircraft; repairs, leases and sells airplane parts, components and instruments;  provides logistics services, designs and installs in-plane cargo loading systems, just to name a few of its business sectors. AIR was founded in 1951. Its 52-week trading range is $10-$23.67. AIR closed Nov. 6 at $15.06, up 11 cents.

South St. Paul, MN-based Ballistic Recovery Systems (PINK: BRSI, http://www.brsparachutes.com) is tiny, only slightly over $1 million in market cap. It makes rocket-deployed parachute systems for general aviation and recreational aviation aircraft that are designed to parachute the entire plane to safety in the event of an in-air emergency. BRSI stock barely trades at all, averaging only about 3,900 shares a day. Its 52-week range is $0.05-$0.30. It traded 10,000 shares Nov. 6 and closed at $0.14, up 4 cents.

Portland, OR-based Erickson Air-Crane Inc. (Nasdaq: EAC, http://www.ericksonaircrane.com) manufactures and operates Erickson S-64 Aircrane heavy-lift helicopters. One side of its business maintains, overhauls, repairs and provides aircraft services, the other side uses its fleet to aide in firefighting, timber hauling and infrastructure construction. AIR has a 52-week trading range of $5.35-$8.50. It closed Nov. 6 at $7.49, up 3 cents.

Calabasas, CA-based National Technical Systems * (NASDAQ:NTSC; http://www.nts.com/) is a leading provider of testing and engineering services with the largest network of test laboratories and engineering service centers in North America and more than 50 years of experience.  The majority of its revenues come from the aerospace and defense industries. It also offers end-to-end unmanned aerial vehicle services. NTSC’s 52-week trading range is $4.22-$8.80.  Its market cap is currently almost $91 million. It closed Nov. 6 at $7.92, up 8 cents for the day.

Monrovia, CA-based AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV; http://www.avinc.com/) engages in the design, development, production, support, and operation of unmanned aircraft systems, and efficient energy systems for various industries and governmental agencies.  In late July, its market cap was $503 million and AVAV stock was trading for about $23. By early November it had not changed much. It closed Nov. 6 at $22.60, down 3 cents.

* Denotes client of Allen & Caron Inc., publisher of this blog.

That Light at the End of the Recession: Who Is the Levi Strauss of the Recovery?

There are articles this morning with significant news for the economy as a whole and for the investment community in particular.  First of all, the job market improved more than expected, and is back on the curve it was on earlier this spring, with job creation in the private sector at 176,000 jobs, and new applications for unemployment well under the “magical” number of 400,000. 

Early gold miners wearing Levis. Photo courtesy of andrewhennigan.blogspot.com

Second, and possibly more important, the number of business bankruptcies has fallen and is on track to finish the year at its lowest level since prior to the beginning of the “Great Recession.”  The comes chockablock on top of a truly boffo month of June for consumers, especially people buying cars.

There are storm clouds — European and Chinese wobblies specifically, with interest rates dropping, which is likely to push the value of the US dollar up, making our goods more expensive overseas.  Actually though, two of our biggest trading partners are virtually (but not officially) pegged to the US dollar (Mexico & Canada), and many other economies, such as Australia — resource rich and recessionless — are fairly stable with regard to the greenback. 

So the question is, if we are seeing all these lights at the end of the tunnel — what should we be doing as investors?  We at SmallCapWorld have no answers, no recommendations, because we are not financial advisors,  but we are finding some areas more interesting than others.  Infrastructure continues to be a big agenda item, for instance.  For those with a longer horizon and some patience, homebuilders are looking more interesting.  And an intriguing article in the New York Times last weekend theorized that the electric vehicle market, in spite of the highly publicized obituaries of the lithium-ion battery companies,  may not be dead in the water: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/automobiles/evs-are-merging-into-californias-traffic.html?_r=1&ref=automobiles.

Many investors look at sectors like these when economic reports are positive, hoping to find bargains like four-leaf clovers.  An article this morning in Motley Fool may be a case in point, for instance: http://beta.fool.com/jonathanyates13/2012/07/05/it-time-togo-sir-john-templeton-european-stocks/6140/?source=eogyholnk0000001.  Heck, even Warren Buffett is out in the weeds looking for something special, buying up newspapers (talk about last century!). 

I’d like to suggest that there is a larger pond to splash about in, and it is not sector-specific: cross-border companies, especially those trading in the USA as ADRs (American Depositary Receipts).  It seems as though ADRs tend to trade at a significant discount to the valuations given their peers on US markets.  That is less true of largecap ADRs, a fast-growing group, by the way, but largely controlled in valuation by trading in their home exchanges.   But it seems to be increasingly true across the board in smallcap ADRs.  After all, what was the biggest success story of the California Gold Rush?  I think it was Levi Strauss, which did nothing more than invent blue jeans for the miners.  Facilitators tend to be ignored at times.

Why would this be so?  Well, maybe it is that they are farther away than US-headquartered companies; they use currencies that may be more volatile these days; they tend not to market themselves well to US investors; they seldom trade on Nasdaq or the NYSE.  In fact, most of them trade in the regulatory twilight zone that used to be universally referred to as The Pink Sheets.  However that may be, there are some very big, very prosperous, very well-known companies now trading on the “pinks” after having delisted from the big exchanges when Congress started tightening the regulatory screws a couple of financial bubbles and several Ponzi schemes ago.

If there are bargains in the ADR world, they will be found eventually — at least that is the theory behind the “if you build it they will come” philosophy that used to be called “build a better mousetrap” or “stick to your knitting.”  And for the Sherlock Holmes types among us, there are all kinds of companies worth looking on the upgraded “pink sheets” listings called OTCQX and OTCQB.  With the not-so-slow decline of the Bulletin Board, these listings may look like the Wild West, but they are not the typical old “pennystocks” that many investors remember.  And the JOBS Act is breathing new life into these small newcomers by suspending a lot of the draconian rules that govern fund-raising for larger companies:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanhall/2012/06/28/hearings-on-jobs-prepare-the-u-s-for-expanded-crowdfunding-accelerating-startup-activity-creation-of-jobs/

Anyway, the point of this article is not to pick out stocks in the pink sheets, it is to look for stocks that could benefit from a gold rush pointed at the pink sheets.  The first and most obvious is OTC Markets Group itself (OTCQX: OTCM), the proprietor of the Pinks, the OTCQX and OTCQB.  OTCM, headquartered in New York City (http://www.otcmarkets.com/home) , is chugging along at an increasing revenue rate that looks to be in the range of at least $32 million to $35 million this year, and bringing about 15%  (or $0.12 per share) to the bottom line in the most recently reported quarter.  Just to put this in perspective, the market cap is around $73 million and OTCM is handling 10,000 over-the-counter securities.  The volume of trading in OTCM is under 1,000 shares per day, which puts a bit of a technical barrier up for some people — but it is hard to imagine this part of the market NOT growing.

Another you-never-heard-of-it company that stands to benefit is one of the Fortune 500: INTL FCStone Inc (Nasdaq: INTL).  One of the busiest traders in the market, INTL is said to be the largest marketmaker of cross-border stocks in the US, and they are an increasingly prominent advisor to OTCQX and OTCQB companies under the “PAL” or Principal American Liaison designation.  They are also one of the largest buyers of gold in the world.    The shares are trading at $19.61, not far off their lows; the market cap is $375 million, and the average daily trading volume is 84,000 shares.  This article in SeekingAlpha addresses the value that might be there: http://seekingalpha.com/article/667071-4-undervalued-small-cap-financials-with-analyst-love?source=yahoo

There are some very small dark horses, like San Francisco-based Merriman Holdings (OTC: MERR; http://www.merrimanco.com), which claims to be the largest PAL operation with regard to OTCQX companies.  MERR is quite small and has a recent history of management change and financial distress, but their newswires are busy virtually every day with new OTCQX clients. 

And there are some much larger companies that stand to benefit, like the Australian whiz-kid, Computershare Ltd (OTCQX: CMSQY and ASX: CPU).  Their market cap is well out of our ballpark at $4+ billion, but they have come out of the pack like Secretariat at the Derby, recently taking over the stock servicing portfolio at Bank of New York Mellon.

We own none of the securities discussed in this article.