Saturday, September 1, 2012

More Color on Conrad Industries Competitor, JeffBoat ($CNRD)

This is from the American Commercial Lines filing (they own JeffBoat),

We currently operate in two business segments, transportation and manufacturing. We are the third largest provider of dry cargo barge transportation and second largest provider of liquid tank barge transportation on the United States Inland Waterways, which consists of the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, the Illinois River and their tributaries and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway...

Transportation Industry. Barge market behavior is driven by the fundamental forces of supply and demand, influenced by a variety of factors including the size of the Inland Waterways barge fleet, local weather patterns, navigation circumstances, domestic and international consumption of agricultural and industrial products, crop production, trade policies and the price of steel. According to Informa, the Inland Waterways fleet peaked at 23,092 barges at the end of 1998. By the end of 2009, the industry fleet had, decreased to 17,498 dry and 3,009 liquid barges, for a total fleet size of 20,507, 11.2% below the 1998 level, with 113 more liquid tank barges and 2,698 fewer dry cargo barges than were in service at the end of 1998. Retirements of dry and liquid barges of 1,131 and 144, respectively, during the two-year period including 2010 and 2011, were more than offset by new construction with additions in excess of retirements of 498 dry cargo barges and 75 liquid tank barges, resulting in an industry fleet of 21,080 at the end of 2011. This was 8.7% below the 1998 peak levels in the industry, with the number of dry cargo barges down 10.9% and liquid tank barges up almost 6.5%. Competition is intense for barge freight transportation. The top five carriers (by fleet size) of dry and liquid barges comprise over 55% of the industry fleet in each sector as of December 31, 2011. The average economic useful life of a dry cargo barge is generally estimated to be up to 35 years and up to 40 years for liquid tank barges, with the age of retirement depending on physical condition of a barge and the amount of reinvestment and repair.

Manufacturing Industry. The inland barge manufacturing industry competes primarily on quality of manufacture, delivery schedule, design capabilities and price. We consider Trinity Industries, Inc. to be our manufacturing segment’s most significant competitor for the large-scale manufacture of inland barges, although other firms have barge building capability on a smaller scale. We believe there are a number of shipyards located on the Gulf Coast that compete with our manufacturing segment for the manufacturing of liquid tank barges. In addition, certain other shipyards may be able to reconfigure to manufacture inland barges and related equipment. We believe, based on data reported by River Transport News (published by Criton), that Jeffboat and one other competitor together comprise the significant majority of barge manufacturing capacity in the U.S. We also believe that the new dry barge builds required to replace retiring barges may strain the capacity of barge manufacturing during the next five years. According to industry data provided by Informa, from 2005 through 2011, Jeffboat’s brown water liquid and dry cargo barge production accounted for between 24% and 43% of the overall market.
This tells you two very bullish data points. First, the barge industry is actually rather consolidated. The Herfindahl index is probably at least 0.25, which would be considered "highly concentrated". It's possible that ACI/Jeffboat or Trinity Industries would be prohibited from acquiring Conrad. 

Second, the barge replacement cycle seems to stretch out ahead of us, and the new facilities that Conrad is building with its capex spend this year will be positioned to profit from them. And I haven't noticed any other barge builders besides Conrad talking about expanding capacity.

Demand that "strains the capacity" of a highly concentrated industry implies high profit margins. Why is Conrad trading at a P/E of under 4x when its sales and margins are likely to increase?

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