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LONDON -- It's time to go shopping for shares again, but where to start? Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser? Dividend behemoth Vodafone? Or maybe global retailer Tesco?
There are plenty of great stocks to choose from, and I'm enjoying doing some window shopping. So, here's the question I'm asking right now: Should I buy Weir Group (LSE: WEIR.L ) ?
Pump it up
Actually, I've been asking myself this question for a couple of years. I still haven't taken the plunge, but, with hindsight, I've missed some great buying opportunities.
Weir Group is a Scottish success story. This Glasgow-based engineering company -- which makes pumps, turbines and valves -- is a truly global business, with markets in the U.S. and Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific.
It employs 8,000 people across three core sectors: minerals, oil and gas, as well as power and industrial. When people lazily claim that the U.K. doesn't make anything these days, they forget companies like Weir.
Here Weir go
Investors in the company have been on a roller-coaster ride this year. In late February, shares hit a high of 22.30 pounds. By June, they had slumped more than one-third to around 14.30 pounds.
Anybody who bought then (as I nearly did) will be celebrating, with the shares now standing at 18.25 pounds. So, why all the excitement? In July, it was briefly the most heavily shorted stock in the FTSE 100, following a slide in demand for equipment from the U.S. "fracking" industry, after the shale gas revolution led to a glut of supply, forcing down prices.
Weir, which provides half of all the high-pressure pumps used in the U.S. and Canadian shale markets, had 46 million pounds of forward orders canceled, hitting first-half profits in its oil and gas division.
But this only underlines the benefits of having a well-diversified business, as its minerals and power and industrial divisions offset the bad news -- with orders growing 7% and 11%, respectively.
Weir reported a healthy 27% rise in first-half profits, with revenues increasing to 1.3 billion pounds, up from 1 billion pounds in the first six months of 2011. Few are shorting it now.
Anyone for afters?
One worry is that Weir is exposed to any downturn in the mining industry. If we do get a Chinese hard landing, the aftershocks will hit mining capital expenditure -- and demand for Weir's equipment. Emerging market uncertainty also explains Weir's recent volatility.
That said, Weir does have a cushion, in the shape of its strong aftermarket. The more equipment it installs, the more it earns from replacement parts and service contracts. Just ask turbine maker Rolls-Royce.
Weir Group yields just 1.8%, so it isn't for income seekers. It is trading on a forecast price-to-earnings of 12.2 times earnings, much lower than in 2010 -- the year it was promoted to the FTSE 100, when it hit a high of 17.7.
The stock is still 18% below its 52-week high. If we get another bout of stock market turbulence, recent history suggests Weir Group will be unfairly knocked. If it is, I plan to pump some of this stock into my portfolio. I don't want to squander this opportunity again.
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