Northrop Tosses Huntington Ingalls Overboard

On March 31, 2011, Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) launched a new defense contractor. Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE: HII  ) , its nuclear aircraft carrier- and submarine-building business, got shoved out to sea this morning. But in getting itself out of Huntington, did Northrop set investors adrift in a leaky boat?

Today marks the first day that Huntington trades as an independent company, and according to Bloomberg, it may mark a superb opportunity for investors. After all, as the news organization reports, Huntington is the "sole supplier of nuclear-powered carriers and submarines for the Navy," making the company arguably "too big to fail." (If true, that would be news to General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) , which has been building submarines for the Navy for more than a century...)

But factually inaccurate reporting on its business isn't Huntington's only problem. There's also the competition ... and the valuation. Now that it's independent, Huntington must compete with the likes of fellow Pentagon warship-builders Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) -- without the rest of Northrop to watch its back. Considering the company's financial performance to date, this could prove problematic.

While currently profitable both on a cash profits basis, and as measured by GAAP, Huntington has had its share of problems. Examining the three past years for which financials are now available (depicted as if Huntington had been an independent business while operating within Northrop), we see that Huntington has averaged just less than $7 million in annual free cash flow. On the one hand, that gives the company a lot of room to deliver improved results for investors. On the other, it'll make servicing the company's $1.6 billion debt load extremely problematic.

Foolish takeaway
It's true that, as Bloomberg reports, spinoffs often deliver outsize returns to investors. But don't assume that it'll happen in this particular case. After all, companies don't often voluntarily shed businesses because they're embarrassingly profitable. For every Mead Johnson Nutrition (spun off by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2009) spinoff that's rewarded investors, I can point you to a couple of Blockbusters and Neenah Papers (spun off in 2004 by Viacom and Kimberly-Clark, respectively) that have not.

Before buying a ticket to board Huntington Ingalls, make sure you examine the financials. I spy more than a few holes in this boat.

How will the Huntington Ingalls spinoff turn out? Add the stock to your Watchlist, and follow along.

Kimberly-Clark is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Fool owns shares of General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks named above. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.  The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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