Friday, January 2,
InVision Technologies, Inc.
Price (12/31/97): $7 5/8
HOW DID IT FIND TROUBLE?
Shortly after InVision went public in April 1996, the ill-fated TWA Flight
800 exploded off the coast of Long Island. That tragedy sent the shares of
InVision and other makers of bomb detection equipment soaring.
Since then, a White House commission headed by Vice President Gore stirred
Congress to dole out $144 million for the deployment of advanced security
gear at U.S. airports. Some $52.2 million was allocated for the kind of explosive
detection systems (EDS) that InVision makes.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inked a deal with InVision in December
1996 that has led to a terrific year for the company. Third quarter results
showed revenues up 290% to $15.5 million. Excluding one-time acquisition
costs, it earned $0.15 per share versus a year earlier loss of $0.05 per
share. Results for the first nine months of the year are comparable, with
EPS of $0.37 versus a loss of $0.50.
The company shipped 16 of its CTX 5000 explosive detection systems during
the third quarter, raising this year's total to 38. While InVision is already
delivering 50% gross margins, its new headquarters figures to improve
manufacturing efficiencies... if orders keep flowing in.
That uncertainty about future orders, though, has weighed on the shares.
The FAA is InVision's biggest customer, but Congress must allocate more money
before the agency springs for more systems.
In an October 29 press release, CEO Sergio Magistri said he was "not aware
of specific funding for additional EDS purchases in the current 1998 federal
budget," but he believed "that federal funds will be made available for follow-on
orders from the FAA during the government's fiscal year 1998."
Despite InVision's better-than-expected earnings, the stock fell from $12
3/8 to $10 11/16 on that comment. It has continued to slide because, despite
InVision's X-ray specs, there is poor earnings visibility ahead.
InVision develops and manufactures bomb detection systems based on advanced
computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) technology acquired from its former
parent, Imatron (Nasdaq: IMAT). Its CTX 5000 is currently the only
device certified by the FAA for use in inspecting luggage on commercial airline
The CTX 5000 sells for $1 million apiece, making it more expensive than competing
systems. It is also up to 70% slower, handling just 300 bags per hour. However,
InVision's systems can check luggage from every angle, making them better
and more accurate at detecting explosives.
As of September, the company had received orders for 112 units (54 ordered
by the FAA), with 66 already shipped to 15 airports in ten countries, including
Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International, London's Heathrow, and New York's JFK.
For the first nine months of 1997, five large customers accounted for 86%
of revenue. Half of the sales have come from international customers.
In September, the company acquired Quantum Magnetics, a firm known for its
quadrupole resonance technology, which can be used to improve InVision's
CT systems. Because Quantum's QSCAN-500 can identify hard-to-detect compounds
in sheet and plastic explosives, the FAA recently purchased several units
to complement airport x-ray systems.
Competitors include Vivid Technologies (Nasdaq: VVID), EG&G
Astrophysics, Heimann Systems GmbH, Thermedics Detection (AMEX: TDX),
Barringer (Nasdaq: BARR), and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT).
InVision insiders own 12% of the shares and primary investor Harax Holdings
controls another 22%. In October, the company moved into a new headquarters
in Newark, California, consolidating the operations of three sites.
12-month sales: $42.6 million
12-month income: $4.1 million*
12-month EPS: $0.35*
Profit Margin: 9.6%*
Market Cap: $98 million
(*Includes third quarter acquisition charge amounting to $0.07 per share)
Cash & Securities: $18.7 million
Current Assets: $46.1 million
Current Liabilities: $17.1 million
Long-term Debt: $0.3 million
HOW COULD YOU HAVE SEEN IT COMING?
Any stock that rockets ahead on hype about possible sales merits
skepticism. Even in a case like this one where the sales pan out, an investor
should expect volatility, even Trouble.
The recent implosion owes a lot to the simple logic of valuation. Exceptional
earnings growth today isn't worth much if sales might slow or even contract
in the near future. Companies deserve earnings multiples that discount such
InVision depends on U.S. government spending, a tough spot to be in. Even
when money is appropriated, it may not flow as quickly as expected. Plus,
since the FAA has provided seed money to develop the industry, it may want
to develop some competition, too, before placing more orders.
Also, a company's move to a new headquarters often represents a market top,
as executives become overly optimistic about future prospects only to find
they've saddled themselves with higher overhead expenses at precisely the
time when sales begin to slow. That's a possible scenario here.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
At the end of September, InVision had an order backlog for 46 CTX 5000 units
good for about $47 million in revenues. Its new Quantum subsidiary has also
been picking up its first contracts: one with the FAA for 2 to 5 QSCAN-500s
(up to $2.3 million total) and another worth $4.5 million to develop new
landmine detection equipment for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Add a total of $11 million in research contracts, then, to the $47 million
backlog, and it looks like InVision has enough work to maintain current sales
for nearly another year. Its future depends on continued spending by the
FAA, new business from international customers, and the development of new
markets for its products.
Because of the evaluation process, it usually takes InVision 6 to 12 months
to close a deal. Assuming the U.S. governme