Shares of Force Protection (Nasdaq: FRPT ) took a critical hit last Thursday, hurt by negative comments and a downgrade to "hold" from market maven Collins Stewart. My reaction? If you'll pardon the rhyming couplet: The sell-off was overdone. Collins jumped the gun.
Collins shoots to wound
First and foremost, let's get one thing straight: Collins was not entirely down on Force. To the contrary, Collins commented that Force's "deliveries and revenue still appear strong." The analyst seemed primarily interested in taking winnings off the table; Force's shares rose a startling 126% since Collins called it a "buy" in November.
The negative comments Collins did voice centered on investor over-optimism. The analyst worries that investors are assuming that Force will win a pending Pentagon contract to produce a new "all-terrain" Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle variant -- a contract that Collins fears may go not to Force, but to one of the other competitors in the MRAP race, such as Navistar (NYSE: NAV ) .
But here's the thing
Now, Force may not be a shoo-in for the new contract (referred to alternately as "M-ATV" or more colloquially as "MRAP Lite"), but just hours after Collins bailed on the stock, Force got a big boost from sometimes partner-sometimes rival General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) . The two companies announced that they are pairing up through their joint venture, Force Dynamics, to submit Force's much-heralded Cheetah MRAP in the competition for an M-ATV contract.
Whom must Force Dynamics beat to win the gold? Navistar, as Collins noted, has a head start; its "Dash" MRAP is already serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. Force Dynamics hopes to narrow Navistar's lead by starting up limited production of its Cheetah right away, so that if a contract arrives, Force can begin filling it immediately. BAE Systems, another leader in MRAP production, will certainly compete as well. And word has it that Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK ) has put a variant of its "Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement" in the running.
Force Protection has a tough fight ahead. But its cash flows just turned positive, the stock's sporting a price-to-earnings ratio in the single digits, and analysts project 15% long-term earnings growth. And now -- finally! -- the company looks set to recoup some of its investment in the Cheetah program.
Fools, the Force is finally looking strong with this one.