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What: Shares of crane maker Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW) zoomed 17% on huge volumes in trading today, hitting not just a new 52-week high, but also a price level investors haven't seen since 2009. In fact, the action began in pre-market session, thanks to a good set of fourth-quarter and full-year numbers that the company released on Thursday evening. The rally in shares wasn't totally unexpected though, given peer Caterpillar's recent earnings beat.
So what: While Manitowoc's fourth-quarter sales slipped 2% year over year, it recorded 3.4% growth in the top line for the full year. Management did a fantastic job with cost control, as evidenced by the whopping 74% and 77% jump in the company's adjusted earnings from continuing operations for the fourth quarter and full year, respectively.
Breaking down, Manitowoc's food service equipment segment emerged as the star performer, with fourth-quarter sales surging 10% and operating margin hitting 17.2% from only 13.7% in the year-ago quarter. Those numbers helped offset an 8% drop in crane segment sales. But investors should note that Manitowoc enjoyed an exceptionally strong fourth quarter in 2012 because part of third-quarter crane shipments got rolled over, which make year-over-year comparisons appear even more dismal. More notably, tight cost control helped the company's crane segment end with flattish operating margin of 7. 8% despite the big sales drop.
Now what: Two numbers, in particular, caught my attention – Manitowoc's solid margin growth and the dramatic bump in orders. After reporting a 23% slump in third-quarter orders, the company's order value for Q4 rose 30% year over year. Manitowoc hasn't seen those order levels since the recession, and it could get better from here, especially with the construction industry exhibition, ConExpo, being held in Las Vegas in March. Manitowoc will showcase its new products at the event, which has traditionally proved successful for the company.
I was also impressed by the improved performance from Manitowoc's food service equipment business. While construction activity in the U.S. is picking up, slower international markets could hurt Manitowoc's crane sales. In such a situation, a stronger parallel business helps maintain revenue and margin growth.
In fact, Manitowoc's outlook for 2014 reflects that sentiment. While it projects "modest" revenue growth and "high single-digit percentage" margin for its crane business for 2014, Manitowoc sounds far more optimistic about its food service equipment business, expecting revenue growth in the mid-single digits and a "high-teens" margin from it. For perspective, the revenue from the division grew just about 3.7% in 2013, while operating margin came in at 16.2%.
Improving profitability and order rate, optimistic outlook, and reducing debt should act as growth catalysts for the company, and its shares, in 2014 and beyond. Several analysts are already bullish about Manitowoc, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more jumping in after the company's earnings beat. Remember, some investors may want to book profits over the coming days after the stock's massive rally today, but a long-term investor needn't worry.
Neha Chamaria has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.